US Army lieutenant files lawsuit against two Virginia police for traffic stop assault

Another disturbing video of heavy handed policing comes amid debates over race and justice

In this image made from Windsor, (Va.) Police video, A police officer uses a spray agent on Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor, Va.  Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, is suing two Virginia police officers over a traffic stop during which he says the officers drew their guns and pointed them at him as he was dressed in uniform. Caron Nazario says his constitutional rights were violated by the traffic stop in the town of Windsor in December.  (Windsor Police via AP)
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A US Army lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against two Virginia police officers over what court papers say was a violent traffic stop, where officers pointed their guns, knocked him to the ground, pepper-sprayed him and "threatened to murder him".

The lawsuit, filed by army officer Caron Nazario, on April 2 in Norfolk, Virginia, against Windsor policemen Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, alleges violations to his constitutional rights and includes assault, illegal search and illegal detention.

The incident captured on video comes at a time of heightened awareness over police arrests of minorities and racial justice in the wake of the ongoing televised trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin, following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in May.

Telephone calls to the two police officers named in the suit, the Windsor police department and Mr Nazario's attorney, Jonathan Arthur, were not immediately returned to Reuters.

Mr Nazario, who is Latino and black, was in uniform and driving his new off-roader with a temporary paper tag displayed on the back window on December 5, when he was told to pull over on US Highway 460 in Windsor, Virginia, a town of about 2,600 residents, south-east of Richmond.

When a police cruiser signalled for him to stop, the lawsuit says Mr Nazario put on his indicators, slowed down and looked for a well-lit place.

An officer radioed to dispatch that a driver without a tag was "eluding police" and it was considered a "high-risk stop", and another police officer responded to the scene.

Mr Nazario stopped at a nearby petrol station, less than two minutes after being signalled to pull over. During the stop, which was captured on police body cameras and Mr Nazario's cell phone, Mr Nazario told police that he was afraid to get out of the vehicle. An officer responded, "Yeah you should be," the lawsuit says.

An officer also stated that Mr Nazario was "fixing to ride the lightning", in an apparent reference to execution by electrocution.

During the arrest, the lawsuit says Mr Nazario had his hands up, offered no resistance, but was pepper-sprayed and violently knocked to the ground and detained. The police chief responded to the scene and Mr Nazario was released without charges, the lawsuit says.

After the altercation, officer Gutierrez said he understood why Mr Nazario looked for a well-lit place to pull over and said: "I get it, the media spewing race relations between law enforcement and minorities. I get it."