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Virginia police officer fired amid lawsuit from Army lieutenant over traffic stop

Unclear if second officer was disciplined
Army Officer Traffic Stop Lawsuit
Posted at 8:32 AM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 13:50:57-04

ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. — One of the two police officers that was involved in a now-viral traffic stop where an Army lieutenant was pepper-sprayed has been fired.

In a statement, the town of Windsor, Virginia confirmed that the officers' use of pepper spray during the arrest prompted an investigation, and that Officer Joe Gutierrez had subsequently been fired from the Windsor Police Department. The statement did not say whether the second officer involved in the arrest, Officer Daniel Crocker, would face discipline.

Town officials say the investigation also resulted in department-wide requirements for additional training that began in January.

"The Town of Windsor has remained transparent about this event since the initial stop, and has openly provided documents and related video to attorneys for Lt. Nazario. The Town will continue to provide information related to this event in its commitment to openness," the statement read.

The announcement comes just after a week after Army Lt. Caron Nazario filed a lawsuit against Gutierrez and Crocker for their actions during a December 2020 traffic stop. During that stop, officers pepper sprayed him, drew their guns, pointed them at him and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution.

According to a police report, officers attempted to pull Nazario for the lack of a rear license plate on his newly-purchased car. Nazario claims he had a temporary tag displayed on his back windshield.

Nazario eventually pulled over at a gas station about a mile after police initiated the traffic stop. While police at the time claimed Nazario was "eluding police," his lawyer claims he was trying to find a well-lit area to pull over.

Footage from the arrest shows officers pepper-spray Nazario.

"I'm honestly afraid to get out," Nazario says in video of the incident.

"Yeah, you should be!" one of the officers said.

Video of the incident has been viewed millions of times in recent days, prompting criticism from across the country. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam released a statement Sunday directing state police to conduct an independent investigation into the Windsor officers.

"The Town of Windsor, Virginia, acknowledges the unfortunate events that transpired on December 5, 2020 involving Lt. Caron Nazario and officers of the Windsor Police Department, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker," Northam said in the statement.

The town of Windsor joined Northam and other local and state leaders to request an investigation conducted by State Police. State Police tweeted Sunday that they have initiated the investigation into the officers.

"The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department. Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light. 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," the town's statement read.

Calls for an investigation into the traffic stop grew louder throughout the weekend prior to the town's decision to fire Gutierrez.

“I think it’s going to take a chorus of voices continuing the calls for more transparency, more accountability and eliminating the institutional and systemic racism that appears to pervade our law enforcement agencies in this Commonwealth,” said State Delegate Jeff Bourne, a Democrat.

Bourne is a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC). The group was one of the first to call for accountability and a thorough review of the two officers involved.

“Clearly this is yet the latest example of Black and brown people being treated extremely differently by our law enforcement officers,” Bourne said. “They swear to protect and serve but that level of service, that level of protection seems to vary by the hue of your skin.”.

Rick James, a criminal analyst and 27-year veteran of the Norfolk Police Department, said the video is disappointing.

“There was a lot of errors that was made, I think, with the law enforcement,” he said.

What struck James the most is the roles of the officer and citizen were seemingly reversed. In video from the stop, Nazario can be heard asking officers to "relax."

“Instead of the officer trying to deescalate and calm things down, the driver of the vehicle is really trying to calm the officer down and deescalate,” James said. “He was talking very calmly, wasn’t raising his voice. He was clearly asking, 'hey, what am I being stopped for?'”

James said the excessive use of force wasn’t justified.

“Pulling your gun out is deadly force,” he said. “I’m not sure they had anything to indicate a felony traffic stop.”

This story was originally published by Arianna Herriott and Antoinette DelBel on WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia.