Windsor, VA – A U.S. Army officer asked the jury to send a message to police everywhere by awarding him $1.5 million for being pepper-sprayed in his vehicle by Virginia cops during a traffic stop in 2020.
In response, the jury sent a very strong message to law enforcement officers on Tuesday when they awarded U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Caron Nazario a total of $3,685 in compensatory and punitive damages from the two now-former police officers, WTVR reported.
The jury ordered Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker to pay Nazario $1,00 for the illegal search of his vehicle.
The jurors ordered Crocker’s counterpart in the incident, now-former Windsor Police Officer Joseph Gutierrez, to pay the Army lieutenant $2,685 in damages for assault, WTVR reported.
The jury’s decision, rendered at about 3 p.m. on Jan. 17, was unanimous.
The judge had given the jurors free rein to determine how much money they thought Nazario deserved if they felt the officers had assaulted, battered, falsely imprisoned, or illegally searched his car, according to WTVR.
The judge had already ruled that Officer Crocker’s search was illegal.
Attorneys for the former officers were pleased with the verdict, WTVR reported.
“Thank you for a job well done, well-reasoned. They took a lot of time with this decision. They took half a day on Friday, they took the better part of the day today,” Crocker’s attorney, Richard Matthews, told reporters afterwards.
“The jury had the opportunity to view the massive videotapes, three of them, one from the point of himself, two from the police officers, and go through every alleged tort that we were challenged and the only thing they found was an assault with a very minimal amount of damages against Officer Gutierrez,” Matthews continued.
“And against our client, Officer Crocker, $1,000 in damages for the search, which we admitted, he didn’t follow the proper procedure,” Crocker’s attorney said. “We feel the verdict was fair, it was courageous on the part of the jury, given the political climate. And we’re very pleased.”
Nazario’s attorney played down the dramatic loss at his press conference after the verdict was announced, WTVR reported.
“We are pleased the jury determined there are certain things they would not tolerate, obviously we are disappointed they determined there are things that they would,” Jonathan Arthur told reporters.
Arthur said they were still considering whether they would appeal and Nazario opted not to make any comments.
The incident that brought the Windsor police to the attention of lawmakers occurred on Dec. 5, 2020 when officers stopped Nazario in his newly-purchased Chevrolet Tahoe for not having license plates, CBS News reported.
Bodycam video showed temporary license plates were displayed on the inside of the SUV’s rear window, but the windows were tinted so the temporary tags weren’t immediately visible.
Nazario said in a lawsuit that was filed on April 2, 2021 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk that he was on his way home from a drill weekend when he saw police lights flashing behind his vehicle, The New York Times reported.
He said he continued driving for about a mile to stop at a gas station because he said he was afraid to stop on the dark road.
Bodycam video showed that after Nazario stopped his vehicle, police ordered him to step out of the SUV with their weapons drawn.
Officer Crocker wrote in the police report that he thought the driver was “eluding police” and considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” WTOP reported.
“Get out of the car,” one officer yelled in the video.
The video showed Nazario stuck his hands out of the driver’s window but refused to get out of his vehicle.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario told the officers when two of them approached his driver’s side.
“Yeah,” then-Officer Gutierrez replied in the video. “You should be.”
Officers deployed pepper spray in Nazario’s face through the open car window, the bodycam showed.
Nazario began crying and cursing and followed commands to get out of his vehicle.
“What are you? A specialist? Corporal? What are you?” Officer Gutierrez yelled in the video.
“I’m a lieutenant,” Nazario replied calmly.
Then bodycam showed the officers grabbed the man and by his arms and took him to the ground.
Windsor police officials announced in April of 2021 that Officer Gutierrez had been fired after an internal investigation had determined that the officer violated department policy, WTVR reported.
Neither of the officers involved in the incident was criminally charged.