Virginia Police Officer Fired After Shooting Pepper Spray on Army Lieutenant at Traffic Stop, Town Says

Jonathan Arthur, who is representing Lt. Caron Nazario in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the two officers, told CBS News that his client was afraid ”to do anything, any misstep — he was afraid that they were going to kill him.”

The Virginia police officer who held a Black and Latino army lieutenant at gunpoint handcuffed him and doused him with pepper spray during a traffic stop last December has been fired, officials said. 

The Town of Windsor, Virginia, acknowledged in a statement on Sunday the "unfortunate events that transpired” on Dec. 5 involving Lt. Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and officers of the Windsor Police Department, Joe Gutierrez, and Daniel Crocker.

Nazario, who was released without being charged, is now suing the town, CBS reported. 

Jonathan Arthur, who is representing Nazario in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the two officers alleging they violated his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments, told CBS News that his client was afraid ”to do anything, any misstep — he was afraid that they were going to kill him.”

"What prompted him to file is the need to stop this conduct," Arthur said. "The need to hold these two officers accountable and make sure they cannot do it again."

The town stated that the use of pepper spray against Nazario and use of force during the stop was immediately investigated. During the investigation, it was determined that the department’s policy was not followed. Officer Gutierrez was terminated from his employment, according to the statement.

The town did not provide any further information on Crocker, the second officer involved in the incident, but said the department is requiring additional training, CBS reported.

The pepper spray use was captured on bodycam and cellphone video. The footage shows Nazario behind the wheel dressed in his army uniform when he was stopped by two officers at a traffic stop. In the video, Nazario can be seen with his hands visible out of the window of his car. He tells the officers that he has not committed any crime. The officers who had their guns drawn and ordered Nazario to get out of the vehicle. In the video, Nazario is heard saying,  “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”

Nazario, who reportedly questioned the officers several times on why he was being pulled over, was then pepper-sprayed and kicked by Gutierrez. Nazario was then handcuffed while police searched his car, CBS reported

According to the incident report, Nazario was initially pulled over for not having tags displayed on his SUV, which was new, but the temporary dealer plate is visible in the officer's bodycam video, the news outlet reported. According to the Washington Post, in the report, Crocker also stated that Nazario was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop but Nazario lawyer says Nazario told police he wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area “for officer safety and out of respect for the officers.”

The town said it has been "transparent about the incident" and has "openly" provided documents and video to Nazario's attorney. It also said in the statement that it is working with the Virginia State Police and elected officials who have called for a review of these officers' actions, the statement said. 

Gov. Ralph Northam said on Twitter that he was directing the Virginia State Police to launch an independent investigation into the “disturbing” encounter, the New York Post reported.

"Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light,” the statement said. “Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”

On Saturday, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus  (VLBC) sent out a release demanding for greater police accountability and made a statement on what it said is the” Windsor police abusing Lt. Caron Nazario," calling the actions of the officers "atrocious." 

"As the recently released appalling video of U.S. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario makes clear, not even a military uniform and brave service to this country can shield Black and Brown Virginians from racist police harassment and brutality," said the release that was posted on Twitter. "In stark contrast, stands the shield of qualified/sovereign immunity, which allows law enforcement to engage in racist brutality with little to no consequences." 

The Isle of Wright NAACP issued a statement regarding the incident and said they are launching a separate investigation into Windsor Police stating that this “will not go unaddressed.”

“We are done dying. We will not stand silently while another African American's civil rights are violated,” the NAACP wrote, 3WTKR reported. “This video is evident of what the NAACP has been saying all along. It appears from the video that our justice is still being abused by police officers and we are very concerned.”

Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr, and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change sent out a message on her Twitter on Saturday calling the treatment of Nazario “inhumane.”

"I’m thankful that U.S. Army Lt. Caron Nazario is alive,” King wrote. “How gravely inhumane and traumatizing is it that our history and present alert us that Windsor police could have shot and killed him for refusing to “comply” with their sick egos and racism?”

Nazario is now seeking $1 million in compensatory damages, People magazine reported.