A federal jury in Virginia on Tuesday found mostly in favor of two police officers who were sued by a US Army lieutenant after he was pepper sprayed, struck, and handcuffed during a traffic stop. Video of the 2020 incident in the small town of Windsor got millions of views after Caron Nazario filed the federal lawsuit, highlighting fears of mistreatment among Black drivers and raising questions about reasonable police conduct, the AP reports. The jury in federal court in Richmond found former Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez liable for assault and awarded Nazario $2,685 in compensatory damages, according to attorneys on both sides of the case. The jury also awarded Nazario $1,000 in punitive damages after Windsor police officer Daniel Crocker illegally searched Nazario's SUV, the attorneys said.
The jury found in favor of Crocker and against Nazario's claims of assault and battery and false imprisonment, the attorneys said. The jury found in favor of Gutierrez regarding the soldier's claims of battery, false imprisonment, and illegal search. "Having now heard all of the evidence and learning the full picture of this case, we believe the jury reached the correct decision," one of Crocker's attorneys, Anne Lahren, said in a statement. Nazario filed his lawsuit in 2021. Video shows Crocker and Gutierrez pointing handguns at a uniformed Nazario behind the wheel of his Chevy Tahoe at a gas station. The officers repeatedly commanded Nazario to exit his SUV, with Gutierrez warning at one point that Nazario was "fixing to ride the lightning" when he didn’t get out.
Nazario held his hands in the air outside the driver’s side window and continually asked why he was being stopped. Nazario also said: "I’m honestly afraid to get out." "You should be,” Gutierrez responded. Gutierrez went on to pepper spray him through the open window. Once Nazario exited the SUV, the officers commanded him to get on the ground, with Gutierrez using his knees to strike Nazario’s legs, the lawsuit states. Nazario, who is Black and Latino, has developed anxiety, depression and PTSD, according to his lawsuit. Crocker is still on the force, but Gutierrez was fired in April 2021, the same month Nazario filed his lawsuit.
Both Crocker and Gutierrez denied ever threatening to kill Nazario. They contended that Nazario misconstrued Gutierrez’s statement that Nazario was “fixing to ride the lightning.” Gutierrez spoke those words while holstering his gun and drawing his Taser and was referencing his stun gun, not an execution, according to court filings.
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