Va. Officer Who Pepper-Sprayed a Black Army Medic Is Fired

Joe Gutierrez, who is accused of using excessive force during a traffic stop in Windsor, Va., has been dismissed, the town said.,

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A police officer in Virginia who confronted a uniformed Black Army medic at gunpoint and doused him with pepper spray during a traffic stop, an exchange captured on video, has been fired, officials said on Sunday.

The officer, Joe Gutierrez, was terminated for his role in the Dec. 5 encounter involving Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, the town of Windsor, Va., said in a statement posted on its website.

Officials said an internal investigation had determined that Mr. Gutierrez’s actions were not consistent with the department’s policies. They did not provide further details on when Mr. Gutierrez had been fired.

Body camera footage of the encounter has drawn widespread attention and criticism of Mr. Gutierrez, as well as another officer who was also involved in the traffic stop. Both officers were sued on April 2 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk by Lieutenant Nazario, who has accused the officers of using excessive force and violating his constitutional rights.

Windsor, a rural town of about 2,700 people that is about 30 miles west of Norfolk, said in the statement on Sunday that it had requested an investigation into the traffic stop by the Virginia State Police.

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transcript

Video Shows Police Pepper-Spraying Black Army Medic at Traffic Stop

Caron Nazario, an Army lieutenant, was driving through Windsor, Va., on Dec. 5, 2020, when two officers drew guns and doused him with pepper spray, according to a lawsuit filed this month.

“Keep your hands outside the window!” “My hands are right here. What’s going on?” “Get out of the car now!” Officer Crocker: “Get out of the car!” “What’s going on?” “Get out of the car now!” “Get out of the car now!” “I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” “Guess what? I’m a veteran too. I learned to obey!” “That’s — ” “Get out of the car!” “What’s going on?” “Get out of the car now!” “What’s going on?” “What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son.” “I’m sorry, what?” “Get out of the car now!” “What’s going on?” “Get out of the car now!” “Get out of the car!” “Sir, just get out of the car!” “Work with us, and we’ll talk to you. Get out of the car.” “You received an order. Obey it!” “I’m honestly afraid afraid to get out, can I — ” “Yeah, you should be! Get out!” “What’s going on? What did I do?” “Get out now!” “I have not committed any crimes.” “You’re stubborn. A traffic violation. You’re not cooperating. At this point, right now, you’re under arrest. You’re being detained.” “For a traffic violation. I do not have to get out of the vehicle. You haven’t even told me why I’m being stopped. Get your hands off.” “Get out of the car now.” “Get out of the car.” “Get your hands off me, please.” “Get your hands off me.” “You know what?” “Get your hands off me. Get your hands off me. I didn’t do anything. Don’t do that.” “Get out of the car, now.” “Don’t do that. I’m trying to talk to you.” “OK.” “I’m trying to talk –” “Get out of the car.” “Can you please relax? Can you please relax?” “Get out of the car right now. Now.” “That is not how you treat a — I’m actively serving this country and this is how you’re going to treat me? I didn’t do anything. Whoa, hold on. What’s going on? Hold on.” “Watch it.” “Get out of the car! Get out of the car now!” [strained speech] “That’s fucked up. That’s fucked up.” “Get out of the car now!” “Sir, just get out the car.” “I’m trying to breathe.” “Get out of the car, now!” “That’s fucked up. That’s really fucked up.” “Yeah, get out of the car and get on the ground now or you’re going to get it again.” “I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you — ” “Take your seatbelt off and get out of the car!” “Can you please — ” “Get out of the car now!”

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Caron Nazario, an Army lieutenant, was driving through Windsor, Va., on Dec. 5, 2020, when two officers drew guns and doused him with pepper spray, according to a lawsuit filed this month.CreditCredit…via Tom Roberts, Esq.

“The town of Windsor prides itself on its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department,” the town said. “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.”

There was no lawyer listed for Mr. Gutierrez in court records, and efforts to reach him on Sunday night were not immediately successful.

Earlier on Sunday, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, said on social media that he had begun an outside review of the encounter.

“The incident in Windsor is disturbing and angered me — and I am directing the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation,” Mr. Northam said. “Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure that Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable.”

Mr. Northam said that he would invite Lieutenant Nazario to meet with him for a discussion about police reform.

A lawyer for Lieutenant Nazario did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday night.

The medic was driving to Petersburg, Va., from a drill weekend the night of Dec. 5 when he saw police lights flashing behind him.

According to the lawsuit and video footage of the encounter, Lieutenant Nazario, who is Black and Latino, drove about a mile to a gas station because he had been nervous about stopping on a darkened road.

“Get out of the car,” one officer can be heard yelling as Lieutenant Nazario, remaining seated, repeatedly asks why he has been stopped and why the officers have drawn their guns. He positions his empty hands outside the window.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Lieutenant Nazario says.

“Yeah,” says Mr. Gutierrez, according to footage from his body camera. “You should be.”

Lieutenant Nazario was wearing his Army uniform at the time.

“I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” he says. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Mr. Gutierrez yells.

After he was sprayed, Lieutenant Nazario began crying and cursing.

The police officers did not arrest Lieutenant Nazario and did not file charges.

In a report from that night, the officers said they had pulled over Lieutenant Nazario because his S.U.V. did not have license plates. Lieutenant Nazario said he had recently bought a Chevrolet Tahoe and was waiting for license plates. Temporary ones had been taped inside the rear window and were visible, according to the lawsuit.

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