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Virginia Cop Who Pepper-Sprayed Lt. Caron Nazario Has Been Fired Now That Video of Him Being a Monster Has Gone Viral

Content warning: police violence, racism

Back in December, Second Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino and was wearing his Army fatigues at the time, was pulled over while driving his brand new SUV because it did not yet have its permanent rear license plate. (It did have the standard temporary license taped to the window.) The two officers who stopped him, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, drew their guns immediately and pointed them at Nazario, pepper-sprayed him, and knocked him to the ground.

Now one of those officers, Gutierrez, has been fired. This came just hours after Virginia’s governor called for an independent investigation into the incident (an internal investigation was already underway but maybe we shouldn’t keep letting the police investigate themselves) and it only came after Nazario’s story and video of the event—which, again, happened four months ago—went viral.

A warning: This video is incredibly upsetting and will likely be triggering for many.

The event was captured from multiple angles—body cam footage, Nazario’s phone, and a third angle that appeared to be a security camera in the gas station that Nazario pulled into. Gutierrez reportedly tried to pull him over on a dark road and Nazario slowed down and put on his blinker, but kept driving for almost two minutes until he found a safe, well-lit spot to pull over, which was entirely within his rights, though it clearly upset Gutierrez, who wrote in his report that Nazario was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop.”

And all throughout the incredibly upsetting video, we can see Nazario acting completely reasonably, only for the officers to become increasingly aggressive and violent.

We can see that Nazario put his hands out his car window, as instructed. Still, the officers have their guns pointed at him and scream at him to get out of the car, while refusing to tell him why they pulled him over. Nazario repeatedly and calmly asks the officers what the problem is, to which one of the cops tells him he’s “fixing to ride the lightning”—either a reference to the electric chair or a threat that he would use his taser on Nazario.

When he says he’s afraid to get out of the car, they tell him he “should be” while still pointing their guns directly at his face.

One of the officers tried to open the car door to pull Nazario out. In the officers’ reports (which were “near identical” misstatements according to a lawsuit Nazario has filed), they claim that Nazario “assaulted” them by “striking my hand away.” But his own body cam footage shows that didn’t happen.

The officer then pepper-sprayed Nazrio through the car window, apparently without warning. (The report filed said the officers did warn him he would be sprayed but those warnings can’t be heard in any of the videos.)

“The chemical temporarily blinded Nazario and caused a burning sensation in his lungs, throat and skin,” writes the Virginian-Pilot. “Nazario’s dog was in a crate in the back and also started to choke.”

The officers forced Nazario to the ground and handcuffed him, all still without ever having told him why they pulled him over in the first place.

Nazario is now suing the officers, filing a lawsuit in federal court on the grounds that he says his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

According to the lawsuit, once medics arrived and they calmed down, Gutierrez and Crocker seemed to realize that they had acted in a way that was “excessive, illegal, and unconstitutional.” Gutierrez even said he understood why Nazario didn’t pull over right away, saying, “’I get it, the media spewing race relations between law enforcement and minorities, I get it’ that pulling over at the well-lit BP ‘happens all the time,” and that ‘80% of the time, it is a minority.’”

Wow, he’s so close to realizing something there. But if “80% of the time,” it’s POC that feels the need to pull over in a well-lit space, and if the police react with intense violence, maybe it’s not “the media” that’s the problem with those race relations.

Just on Sunday, a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer fatally shot a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop, “inflaming already raw tensions between police and community members in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial [for the murder of George Floyd].” It should also be noted that MN police authorities are now offering up an absolutely shameful excuse for that officer, claiming that they didn’t mean to shoot Wright, but meant to use their taser—exactly the thing Gutierrez threatened to use on Nazario.

In the case of Lt. Nazario, knowing that they acted inappropriately (to put it undeservedly mildly), the officers then “threatened Lt. Nazario’s job and his commission in the United States Army if he spoke out knowing the harm criminal charges would cause him,” which is the basis for Nazario’s claim that the officers violated his First Amendment rights.

I hope Nazario takes these men for everything that they’re worth and so much more, and I’m so glad that at least one of them has been fired, but it absolutely shouldn’t take a video going viral months after the fact to get these sorts of results when the police have had access to that video since this all happened.

(image: YouTube, The Virginian-Pilot)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.