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Army officer sues police for pepper-spraying him, drawing guns during traffic stop

A U.S. Army officer has sued two Virginia police officers over a December incident caught on body camera footage in which the cops drew their guns and pepper-sprayed him. 

Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the Army, said in a lawsuit filed earlier this month that officers violated his constitutional rights during a traffic stop in the southeastern town of Windsor, located about 46 miles west of Virginia Beach. 

In the footage shared online by The Associated Press, Nazario, who is Black and Latino, can be seen dressed in his uniform and holding his hands up while sitting in his parked car at a gas station as the officers point their guns at him. 

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The officers order Nazario to get out of his vehicle, to which he responds, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”

“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers can he heard saying. 

According to the AP, Windsor police officer Daniel Crocker radioed the station saying he was attempting to pull over a vehicle with tinted windows that appeared to not have a rear license plate. 

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Crocker reportedly labeled it a “high-risk traffic stop,” as he claimed the driver was “eluding police.” 

However, Nazario denied that he was trying to escape the officer, instead saying at the time that he was driving home from his duty station and wanted to stop in a well-lit area “for officer safety and out of respect for the officers.”

Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, responded to Crocker’s call for help and joined him in the traffic stop. 

The lawsuit argued that once officers arrived at the gas station, the license plate on the SUV was clearly visible, but the two officers immediately drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario. 

Nazario can be heard in the footage attempting to talk to the officers as they repeatedly tell him to get out of the car. 

“I have not committed any crime,” the Army officer says in the video, to which one of the officers shouts, “You’re being stopped for a traffic violation. You’re not cooperating, and at this point, right now, you’re under arrest. ... You’re being detained for obstruction of justice.” 

After one of the officers attempted to open the car door, Gutierrez then stepped back and pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times. 

At one point, Gutierrez can be heard telling Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” a reference to the electric chair and a line from the movie “The Green Mile,” in which a Black man is facing execution. 

As Nazario eventually exits the vehicle with his eyes clenched shut from the pepper spray, the officers force him to the ground as he repeatedly says, “Please talk to me about what’s going on.” 

The lawsuit in part argued that the footage captured “behavior consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement officers, who, believing they can operate with complete impunity, engage in unprofessional, discourteous, racially biased, dangerous and sometimes deadly abuses of authority.” 

Jonathan Arthur, Nazario’s attorney, told the AP that the Army officer graduated from Virginia State University and was commissioned out of the school’s ROTC program, adding that “he’s definitely not doing too well” after the incident with police. 

The Hill has reached out to the Windsor Police Department for comment.