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Army responds after cop fired for pepper-spraying Army officer during VA traffic stop

Police car lights. (Alexandru Cuznetov/Dreamstime/TNS)
April 12, 2021

A police officer in Virginia was fired following the release of traffic stop footage from December 2020, in which two police officers stopped a black and Latino Army officer, 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, and sprayed him with pepper spray.

Following the release of the traffic stop footage, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston on Monday credited Nazario with remaining calm and professional during the tense situation.

On Monday, SMA Grinston tweeted, “Like many of you, I was concerned by the video of LT Nazario’s traffic stop in December. He represented himself and our Army well through his calm, professional response to the situation – I’m very proud of him.”

Grinston then tweeted, “I cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but I’ve been assured he is receiving the support from his leadership he needs during this time. Situations like this are what I want Soldiers to discuss. This is the reality that some of our Soldiers still face. As a Leader, you should know that and be willing to have conversations about how events like this impact your teams.”

During the incident, the officers had pulled Nazario over, then drew their handguns and yelled at Nazario to exit his vehicle. Nazario did not immediately follow the orders to leave his car and repeatedly asked “what’s going on?”

The footage shows Nazario held his hands outside the driver’s side window, showing that he was unarmed as the officer’s approached the window. At one point, Nazario said, “I’m honestly afraid to get out” to which an officer, pointing a taser at Nazario, said “yeah, you should be.” Moments later, that same officer pulled out a can of pepper spray and sprayed Nazario multiple times.

After being sprayed, Nazario asked the officers to take off his seat belt, while he continued to keep his hands up and visible. Nazario eventually took off his own seat belt, moving slowly and announcing his actions as he did. As the officers then forced Nazario to the ground, he continued to ask from them to explain why he had been pulled over.

On Sunday, the town of Windsor, Va. announced both officers involved in the arrest, officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, had been disciplined for breaking police department policy and that Gutierrez has been terminated from the force.

The town of Windsor said the use of pepper spray during the incident necessitated an investigation.

“At the conclusion of this investigation, it was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed,” the town’s statement reads. “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.”

The Town of Windsor said it had acted transparently throughout the incident and would continue to provide documents relating to the incident to Nazario’s attorneys. Nazario has filed a lawsuit against the two officers involved in the incident.

Nazario is an Army Health Services Administration Officer and is serving in the Virginia National Guard’s Norfolk-based 1st Battalion.

“Lt. Nazario’s unit has been aware of the incident since it occurred in early December, and they have remained in close contact with him and made sure he had any support needed from the Virginia National Guard,” the Virginia National Guard also told CBS.

Attorney Jonathan Arthur, who is representing Nazario, told CBS News that his client was afraid he would have suffered greater harm if he had lowered his hands out of plain view.

“To unbuckle his seatbelt, to do anything, any misstep — he was afraid that they were going to kill him,” Arthur said.