Army lieutenant sprayed with pepper spray by Virginia police receives $3,685

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A federal grand jury in Virginia on Tuesday awarded $3,685 to an Army lieutenant who asked for $1 million, alleging in a lawsuit that he was threatened, assaulted and falsely arrested during a 2020 traffic stop at which police officers they pepper-sprayed him and held him at gunpoint. and said that he “should be” afraid of them.

Caron Nazario, an Army second lieutenant, was driving his new SUV on Dec. 5, 2020, when he was pulled over for not having permanent license plates installed. Because it was dark and he was on a main road, he slowed down and waited until he found a well-lit gas station, Nazario said in the lawsuit filed last year in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The officers asked Nazario, who is black and Latino, to get out of the vehicle. Nazario, questioning why such a measure was necessary on a license plate, told them he was “honestly scared to go out”.

“Yes, you should be!” responded Joe Gutierrez, one of the Windsor, Virginia, police officers named in the lawsuit, according to video footage of the episode.

Caron Nazario, who is black and Latino, is suing two Virginia police officers who he says violated his constitutional rights at a traffic stop in December 2020. (Video: Washington Post)

Nazario was then sprayed with pepper spray, beaten and handcuffed, videos showed. Gutierrez told Nazario, “You’re getting ready to ride the lightning, son,” a reference the lawsuit argued was a threat that “Gutierrez was going to execute Lt. Nazario right there in the gas station parking lot.” Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that he was referring to the use of a Taser, not the execution.

They also threatened to end his military career if Nazario raised concerns about his conduct, according to the lawsuit.

A Black Army officer held at gunpoint during a stop in traffic was afraid to get out of his car. “You should be,” said the police.

Nazario claimed in the lawsuit, seeking $1 million in damages, that he was physically and mentally injured by Gutierrez and the other officer, Daniel Crocker. His constitutional rights were also violated, he said.

But the jury sided with Crocker and Gutierrez, awarding Nazario $1,000 in punitive damages after it found Crocker violated Nazario’s rights under state law and $2,685 in compensatory damages after finding Gutierrez assaulted him.

Tom Roberts, Nazario’s attorney, said the jury’s verdict and the amount of damages awarded to his client were “heightening the insult to injury”. He said in a statement that the verdict is “unlikely to send a message to law enforcement officers other than letting them know that this behavior will not result in any significant consequences.”

The traffic stop became one of many altercations between police officers and black drivers that went viral after being captured on video. After the episode, Gutierrez was fired and the then governor. Ralph Northam (D) called for an investigation.

Coreen Silverman, Gutierrez’s attorney, said “the jury did its job and did it well.” She said the case was “more than a traffic stop for a lack of license plates,” adding that Gutierrez was “very grateful to the jury for taking the time to deliberate on the evidence.”

A lawyer for Crocker, Richard Matthews, said in a statement that the jury reached the “correct decision given the current political climate.”

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