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‘It Adds Insult to Injury’: Uniformed Soldier Pepper-Sprayed, Handcuffed During Viral Traffic Stop for Tinted Windows Gets Less Than $4K In Lawsuit

A jury reached a verdict for the lawsuit filed by U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who was held at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed and handcuffed for tinted windows and a missing rear license plate in 2020.

A federal jury awarded Nazario less than $4,000 in the complaint from the viral traffic stop involving Virginia police officers.

“It adds insult to injury,” Thomas Roberts, attorney for Nazario, said after the jury verdict.

Nazario was seeking nearly $1.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages. In his federal lawsuit, he claimed Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker and former officer Joe Gutierrez violated his constitutional rights through the use of excessive force and unlawful search and seizure. Gutierrez was fired from the department in April 2021 by the Windsor, Virginia, town manager for excessive force.

“It is unlikely that the verdict will send a message to police officers other than to let them know that this behavior will not result in any meaningful consequences,” Roberts said in a statement.

Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was driving his SUV at night on Dec. 5, 2020, when Crocker pulled him over. The traffic stop was for tinted windows and no rear license plate. As Crocker activated his police lights, Nazario continued slowly driving for less than a mile until he pulled over into a nearby gas station where it was well-lit.

Bodycam video shows the interaction as officer Gutierrez points his gun toward Nazario while instructing him to exit his SUV. Nazario puts his hands outside the vehicle while repeatedly asking, “what’s going on?”

At this point, Nazario positions his cellphone to record from inside his SUV, claiming he’s afraid to get out of his vehicle. Gutierrez and Crocker kept their guns drawn toward a frightened Nazario while instructing him out of his SUV. Gutierrez is heard saying, “what’s going on is you’re fixin’ to ride the lightning, son,” referring to his Taser.

The officers approached the driver’s side window and pepper-sprayed Nazario in the face. They then opened the driver’s side door, grabbed Nazario and forced him onto the ground to be handcuffed. Nazario was never charged, according to The Associated Press.

On April 2, 2021, Nazario filed a lawsuit against the officers. On July 29, 2022, special prosecutor Georgette Phillips determined “no violation of state law occurred” during the arrest that warranted criminal charges against the officers.

During the five-day long federal trial that began on Jan. 9, jurors heard arguments from Jonathan Arthur, one of Nazario’s attorneys, claiming “Nazario was so terrified, he was unable to comply with the orders to get out of the car.”

“A citizen has a right to resist,” he continued, according to WTVR.

Caron Nazario police arrest
A screenshot of Caron Nazario being arrested during a viral traffic stop. (Photo: ABS)

During the trial, Arthur claimed the officers were both guilty of assault and battering Nazario.

Corinne Silverman, Gutierrez’s attorney, said, “there are two sides to every story” and suggested the traffic stop escalated because of Nazario’s actions, including his “eluding and failure to comply, and obstruction of justice,” WTVR reported.

Silverman focused on Nazario’s willingness to seek a well-lit area and being asked “20 times” to exit his SUV.

“If that’s not active resistance, I don’t know what is,” Silverman said during the trial.

WTVR reports Richard Matthews, Crocker’s attorney, claimed to the jury his client “bent over backward to help the guy [Nazario] by getting him water when he asked for it and opening his SUV to get his dog fresh air.”

Matthews admitted during trial Crocker “made one mistake” by illegally searching Nazario’s SUV but called the mistake “absolutely minimal.”

In the end, the jury sided largely with the officers. The jury was not convinced either Gutierrez or Crocker committed false imprisonment or battery, WWBT reported.

The jury awarded Nazario $1,000 in punitive damages after it found Crocker violated his rights under state law and $2,685 in compensatory damages after it found Gutierrez assaulted him.

Caron Nazario lawsuit excessive force police
A screenshot of Caron Nazario in a viral 2020 arrest after being pepper sprayed. (Photo: Bodycam screenshot)

“Citizens will not rest assured that scenes like this are not repeated with impunity,” Roberts said.

“We do think that there are appealable issues in this case, and we will take it up with the appropriate forum,” Arthur said to WTVR after the verdict.

Nazario thanked supporters after the trial.

“I would like to say, continue to keep the spotlight on matters like this, and thank you for the support,” WWBT reported.

Lawyers for the officers deemed the verdict fair.

“The jury did their job and did it well,” Silverman said.

“It was courageous on the part of the jury given the political climate, and we’re very pleased,” Matthews told WWBT.

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