The Windsor, Virginia, police officer who drew his gun and pepper-sprayed a Black and Latino army lieutenant has been fired.
In a Sunday press release, the town of Windsor announced that Officer Joe Gutierrez had been terminated after he was seen on body camera and cell phone video macing Lt. Caron Nazario at a traffic stop on December 5, 2020.
“As a result of this use of force, Department policy requires an internal investigation to determine the appropriateness of such actions. The investigation of this event began immediately. At the conclusion of this investigation, it was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed,” the statement read.
“This resulted in disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present. Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment.”
On the night of the incident, Nazario — a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps — was driving to Petersburg from a drill weekend when he saw police lights flashing behind him.
In a report, Gutierrez and the other officer, Daniel Crocker, said they pulled over Nazario because his SUV did not have license plates. In legal papers after the event, Nazario said he recently purchased a Chevrolet Tahoe and visibly placed temporary license plates inside his rear window.
After driving about a mile to a gas station, officers began yelling at Nazario and drew their guns at him.
After one yells, “Get out of the car,” Nazario repeatedly asks why he was stopped and why the officers had drawn their guns. He then positions his empty hands outside the window.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario said. In response, Gutierrez says, “Yeah, dude. You should be.”
Gutierrez then tells Nazario he is under arrest and is being detained.
Seconds later, Gutierrez douses Nazario with pepper-spray as Nazario’s hands remain up.
The police officers ultimately did not arrest him or charge him with any crimes.
“I made the decision to release him without any charges,” Gutierrez said in his report. “The reason for this decision is simple; the military is the only place where double jeopardy applies. Meaning that whatever happened in civil court, the military could still take action against him. Being a military veteran, I did not want to see his career ruined over one erroneous decision.”
Crocker also chose not to file any charges because Nazario was active duty military, up for promotion, and the officer didn’t want to see his career ruined for “poor judgment.”
This month, Nazario filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia accusing the officers of illegally searching his car, using excessive force, and violating his rights under the First Amendment.
Nazario also alleges the officers threatened to destroy his military career by charging him with multiple crimes if he complained about their conduct.
The lawsuit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages.
In their report, the officers claim Nazario had “willfully and wantonly disregarded” police lights and sirens before pulling over, and “was actively resisting” when Crocker attempted to open the SUV’s driver-side door.