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Trial begins for Virginia police officers being sued by Army officer over traffic stop

<i>Windsor Police/AP</i><br/>Caron Nazario is seen in this still image from body camera footage holding his hands up during the traffic stop in Windsor
Windsor Police/AP
Caron Nazario is seen in this still image from body camera footage holding his hands up during the traffic stop in Windsor

By Justin Gamble and Nicole Chavez, CNN

A federal trial began Monday for a US Army officer suing two Virginia police officers after they pointed guns at him, pepper sprayed him and pushed him to the ground in 2020 during a traffic stop.

A jury began hearing the case involving 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, on Monday shortly after 9 a.m. in a federal court in Richmond, court records show.

In his suit, Nazario claims he was wrongfully stopped and his vehicle was illegally searched. He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages, claiming the Windsor, Virginia, police officers violated his rights guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments.

Nazario filed his lawsuit in 2021 after video of the December 2020 altercation was made public. The encounter was captured by several cameras, including both officers’ body cameras and Nazario’s phone. The footage and the lawsuit were previously obtained by CNN through Nazario’s attorney.

The lawsuit says Nazario, who wore his Army uniform, was driving a new Chevrolet Tahoe on December 5, 2020, that only had “cardboard temporary plates” taped to the inside of the rear window when he was pulled over.

According to the police reports provided as exhibits to the lawsuit, the officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, pulled him over due to the plates and the vehicle’s “dark tinted windows.”

Crocker said Nazario “disregarded” police lights and sirens and continued driving at “a low rate of speed,” according to police reports filed after the incident. The SUV stopped at a BP gas station in Windsor, about 30 miles west of Norfolk. The lawsuit says Nazario wanted to stop in a safe, well-lit place.

Body camera footage of the traffic stops shows Nazario asking officers repeatedly why he was being stopped while his hands were raised. The video shows the officers approaching the vehicle and pointing their guns at the SUV.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario is heard telling the officers after they ordered him to exit the vehicle.

Nazario stayed in the SUV and one of the officers pepper sprayed him four times, the lawsuit says. When Nazario then got out of the car, the officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him, the footage shows.

Nazario was released and no charges were filed against him.

CNN has attempted to reach Gutierrez and Crocker for comment. Gutierrez was fired in 2021 following an investigation into the incident launched because of the use of force and Crocker remains on the force.

At the time, Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring described the officers’ behavior as “dangerous, unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable.”

Last year, Special Prosecutor and Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell determined that no charges should be filed against the officers in state court but formally referred the case to the US Attorney’s Office for a federal civil rights investigation.

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