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Lawsuit: Windsor, Virginia police officers threatened Navy sailor during stop

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Last December, Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario was on his way home with a new SUV when the lights of a police car appeared behind him. Rather than pull over on a narrow, darkened street, he proceeded just over one minute, and less than one mile, down the road and pull into the parking lot of a gas station. There he was confronted by two police officers who proceeded to hold him at gun point, pepper spray him through the window of his vehicle, and threaten him with death.

According to the Associated Press, Windsor, Virginia police officer Daniel Crocker radioed that he was pulling Nazario over because his vehicle lacked a license plate and had tinted windows. He also described Nazario's one minute, low-speed drive to the parking lot as "eluding police." This, to Crocker, justified calling the stop a "high-risk felony traffic stop." Which justified calling for backup and approaching the car with gun drawn.

Except that the temporary tag for Nazario's recently purchased vehicle was clearly displayed in the rear window of the SUV. If Crocker had missed it initially, it seems impossible that he would have not seen it either during that "pursuit" conducted well below the speed limit. It's also clearly visible as the car sits under the lights of the parking lot. By the time Crocker approached Nazario's vehicle, he had to know that, if there ever had been any justification for the stop, that reason no longer applied.

Crocker might have stepped up, explained that he had missed seeing the tag initially, and sent Nazario on his way with an apology. Instead, he was joined by a second officer, Joe Gutierrez, and together the two terrorized Lt. Nazario … while never actually filing any charges.

Gutierrez reportedly saw Lt. Nazario's car pull into the parking lot, which he admitted was a common occurrence. It was something that happens, "a lot, and 80% of the time, it's a minority." If there was any doubt about why a person of color might feel the need to pull over in an area that's well lit, and where there are potential witnesses, the Windsor police soon made the reason clear.

In the bodycam video (some of which has to be watched at YouTube due to age restrictions), both Crocker and Gutierrez can be seen pointing their guns at Lt. Nazario—with Gutierrez adopting a kind of sideways, faux-gangsta style as he waggles the barrel at the uniformed Army officer's face. Gutierrez then begins to tell Lt. Nazario, "you're under arrest right now for,,," stops himself, and then says, "you're being detained for obstruction of justice."

At this point, Lt. Nazario is holding both hands out the open window and asking what is going on. Gutierrez pepper sprays him through the window. As Lt. Nazario winces and pulls back, Gutierrez steps in and gives the lieutenant an extra little toot of spray directly in his face.

After Nazario opens the door— a process delayed because as one officer is telling him to open the door, the other is shouting at Nazario to keep his hands up — Gutierrez orders him to get out of the car. "What are you?" says Gutierrez. "A specialist? A corporal?" naming two lower ranks.

"I'm a lieutenant," said Nazario. Who then informs him that he's afraid to step out, or even reach for his seat belt, and again asks what's going on.

"I'm honestly afraid to get out," says Lt. Nazario.

"Yeah, you should be!" says one of the officers.

Finally pulled from the car, Lt. Nazario is forced to the ground by Crocker and Gutierrez. Still without being told why he was stopped, and even as he is begging for some help for his dog, who was in the car and choking from exposure to pepper spray. In the middle of this, Gutierrez tells Nazario that he is about to "ride the lightning," an expression usually connected to someone being executed in the electric chair.

Lt. Nazario was beaten, handcuffed, and held for interrogation while one of the officers searched his car without a warrant. The two officers threaten to charge Nazario with eluding police, obstructing justice, and assaulting an officer … but they don't. Instead, one expresses concern about the Army learning about the arrest and says he'll let Nazario go if he will "chill."

Nazario has launched a lawsuit against the Windsor police. Both Crocker and Gutierrez still work for the Windsor police department. Neither has been suspended for their actions.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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