Former Virginia officer Joe Gutierrez who mistreated Black US Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario during a traffic stop will not face any criminal charges despite pepper spraying him and striking his knees back in December 2020, following the death of George Floyd and amid mass protests for defunding the police due to their mistreatment of Blacks. He will still be investigated, though.
Hampton Commonwealth Attorney Anton Bell claimed Gutierrez’s “use of force” did not violate the state’s law– hence the former cop won’t be charged.
Videos of the encounter surfaced on the internet and sparked public outrage. A year later, Nazario sued Gutierrez and his partner, who was present during the incident, Daniel Crocker. The two officers claimed they stopped him because his brand new Chevrolet Tahoe did not present a license plate. Nazario claimed in the lawsuit that by the time they approached his vehicle, they could clearly see that a license plate was on the rear of his vehicle but decided to escalate the matter.
“The Defendants decided to escalate the traffic stop, report it as a high-risk felony stop, pull their weapons, illegally detain Lt. Nazario, threaten to murder him, illegally spray him with OC and illegally searched his vehicle,” the lawsuit stated.
In the body cam footage, Crocker and Gutierrez turned on their lights to pull Nazario over for his “missing” license plate, but the lieutenant didn’t stop because he felt uncomfortable pulling over to a dark area as a Black man and pulled over into a well-lit gas station. Officers yelled for him to turn off the car and put his hands out of the window.
In both body cam footage and Nazario’s video from his phone, he placed his hands outside of his video car and asked what was going on and why the officers pulled him over. They commanded him to get out of the car, but he voiced his fear of stepping out of the car and announced that he was in the army (he was dressed in his army greens per the footage), and Gutierrez responded, “Guess what? I’m a veteran, too. I learned to obey.”
After Nazario asked again, what was going on, the alleged army veteran responded that Nazario was “fixing to ride the lightning,” a reference to dying by the electric chair.
After failed attempts to force him out of the car, Gutierrez repeatedly pepper-sprayed Nazario. When he removed himself from the vehicle, they kicked at his knees to get him on the ground. In Crocker’s body cam footage, Gutierrez is heard threatening to ruin Nazario’s career in the army by giving him the option to either keep silent about the issue or face criminal charges. They acknowledged that they understood everything that was going on in the world with the police brutality, yet still managed to treat Nazario the way they did.
“Although I find the video very disturbing and frankly unsettling, Gutierrez’s use of force to remove Nazario did not violate state law as he had given multiple commands for Nazario to exit the vehicle,” Bell said.
“The problematic issue, however, were Gutierrez’s statements throughout the entire ordeal, which would lead a reasonable person to wonder whether underlying bias was at the root of how and why Nazario was treated in like manner,” Bell continued.
So far, the lawsuit is still pending.