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The trial begins today on behalf of a Black soldier who was pepper-sprayed, struck, and handcuffed during a routine traffic stop. In a federal lawsuit, Caron Nazario alleges assault and false imprisonment, and illegal search. 

Millions of viewers watched the event online, sparking outrage. The incident highlights community fears and concerns over law enforcement’s response to “Driving While Black.” 

Many also expressed shock and dismay at the contempt directed at a United States soldier. Nazario is a medical officer in the Virginia Federal Reserves.

The violent incident took place in Windsor, Virginia, a rural area. In the video, two law enforcement officers point their guns at Nazario while they shout at him. 

Nazario repeatedly asked about the stop. At one point he stated he was fearful to exit his vehicle, to which the law enforcement officers replied, “You should be.”

Trial begins

Nazario is also independently suing the law enforcement officers. Officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez claim their actions were appropriate for the situation. 

Officer Gutierrez was fired in April 2021, shortly after the violent incident with Nazario. Officer Crocker is still with Windsor law enforcement.

Nazario suffers emotional distress since the allegedly routine traffic violation. In the lawsuit, he states he suffers anxiety, depression, and PTSD as well as fears of further encounters with law enforcement. 

According to the lawsuit, “The officers involved not only assaulted Mr. Nazario, but pointed their weapons directly at him and, at some point during the encounter, threatened to kill him,” the suit alleges. “Mr. Nazario recalls that he thought he was going to die that evening.”

Meanwhile, a federal judge did find that the officers had probable cause to stop Nazario. A court found the officers had reason to charge him with eluding police, as well as obstruction of justice and failure to obey.

However, those charges typically do not lead to such escalation by law enforcement. At one point, Officer Gutierrez warned Nazario that he was “fixing to ride the lightning” when he didn’t immediately exit his vehicle.

The Virginia Attorney General has also filed a lawsuit against the Windsor Police, stating that the department discriminated against Black Americans. Meanwhile, a special prosecutor found that Officer Gutierrez violated Nazario’s civil rights. 

An independent psychologist determined that Nazario suffers from race-based trauma associated with violent police encounters. Such injuries can affect Black people “in ways that do not commonly affect the white populations.”

Nazario’s lawsuit alleges false imprisonment, as well as assault and battery. The case is potentially precedent-setting on behalf of Black citizens who experience violent encounters with police

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...