Although he was in uniform, Second Lt. Caron Nazario was doused in pepper spray by Windsor police officers after they ordered him to stop his car.
The two police officers also pointed their weapons at the army officer.
Caron Nazario works with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and he was on his way to Petersburg, Va., after a drill weekend when he realized police lights were flashing behind him.
The army lieutenant is both Black and Latino.
On the fateful day, he was too nervous to stop on the dark road. So, he drove about a mile to a gas station.
He stopped and put his cellphone on his dashboard. This was evident from a video showing what happened during the dramatic stop.
Soon, two Windsor police officers were shouting at him.
After one of the officers asked him to get out of the car, Lt. Nazario asked why they had asked him to stop and wanted to know the reason the officers had drawn their guns. He also put his empty hands outside the windows.
When the lieutenant said he was afraid to get out of the car, one of the officers said, "you should be." That was officer Joe Gutierrez, and he was heard saying this from his body camera.
Almost immediately, Officer Gutierrez sprayed the lieutenant with pepper spray. The army officer's hands were still up as he coughed and begged the officers to undo his seatbelt. He also asked them to find out if Smoke, his dog, was fine.
The liquid from the spray was dripping on his hands and face at the time.
The Army Officer Sued The Police Officers
The lieutenant later filed a case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He is a Virginia State University graduate, suing the officers for the use of excessive force, illegally searching his car, and violating his first amendment rights.
The 27-year-old wants compensatory damages worth $1 million.
Also, he accused the officers of threatening to ruin his career by charging him with several crimes if he complained about what they did to him.
Windsor, a rural town, has about 2,700 people, three officers, a detective, a first sergeant and a chief.
The police officers did not arrest the army lieutenant, and they have also not filed any charges.
Their report claimed they had stopped him because his car did not have license plates. The lieutenant explained he had just bought the car and was waiting for his plates.
In the lawsuit, he also explained that the temporary plates were taped inside the rear window and clearly visible.
According to the police report, the lieutenant also had allegedly "willfully and wantonly" disregarded police lights and sirens before he stopped. Allegedly, he was also "actively resisting" when Officer Crocker tried to open his car's driver-side door.
While filing his case, Lieutenant Nazario also provided copies of videos from his phone and police body cams showing them approach his car at the gas station with their weapons drawn.
In the footage, he says:
"I'm actively serving this country and this is how you're going to treat me?"
The lieutenant then asked what was going on before Gutierrez says that the lieutenant was "fixing to ride the lightning."
The officers then struck the army officer behind the knees before telling him to lie down, or he would get tasered. At this point, the officers were also struggling to get the lieutenant on the ground.
After he was sprayed, Lieutenant Nazario was crying and cursing.
When two volunteers from the town's emergency medical service arrived, Officer Crocker went to lieutenant Nazario as he was in cuffs near his car and asked his reason for not following 'simple' commands.
"What would have been a two-minute traffic stop turned into all this… I'm not out to hurt you and I know you don't want to hurt me."
The lieutenant explained that he was trying to find well-lit areas before making his stop.
In the video, he also said that he never looked out of his window and saw the guns drawn out.
According to officer Gutierrez, the Police Chief had given the police officer permission to let Nazario go on the condition that he did not "fight and argue."
Gutierrez also explained that he would not write a summons concerning obstruction of justice and failure to display a license plate as long as Nazario was willing to 'chill and let this go.'
Officer Gutierrez told the lieutenant that if he wrote a summons, the army would have to be told about it. Nazario claimed he would tell his supervisors about the incident. Officer Gutierrez responded by saying that such a decision would cause the media to spew race relations between law enforcement and minorities.
According to Jonathan Arthur, Lieutenant Nazario's lawyer, the army officer had told his supervisors about the traffic stop as soon as possible. The lawyer also said that the lieutenant was still shaken up because he was worried about retaliation.