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FILE – In this image, taken from Windsor, Va. Police body-camera footage, U.S. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario receives help from an EMT following a pepper spraying by Windsor police at a traffic check in Windsor on Dec. 20, 2020. A federal judge on Wednesday, May 3, denied the request of Nazario for a new court trial. He sued police after being pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and struck during a traffic check in rural Virginia. (Windsor Police, via AP)
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(Windsor Police via AP, File) (Windsor Police, via AP)
NORFOLK (VA) -- A U.S. Army Soldier won't be able to get a second trial in his lawsuit against the two police officers who pepper-sprayed him, hit him and had him handcuffed at a traffic stop he made in rural Virginia.
Caron Nazario's lawsuit was filed in 2021, and the video of the incident that occurred in Windsor attracted millions of views. The stop sparked fears about mistreatment of Black drivers, and questions regarding reasonable police conduct.
Nazario sought $1 million damages in his first lawsuit, despite the fact that he was never arrested. In January, however, a Richmond jury sided mainly with two police officers, and awarded the soldier $3,685.
Nazario requested a retrial almost immediately, claiming that the jury's verdict went against the weight of the evidence.
Young stated in a ruling released on Wednesday that Nazario had not shown that the jury findings were outside their discretion.
The judge stated that the jury was free to decide how it would evaluate the credibility of evidence.
In December 2020, the traffic stop took place about 30 miles to the west of Norfolk. Windsor police officers Daniel Crocker, Joe Gutierrez and Nazario are seen in a video pointing their handguns towards a uniformed Nazario at a gasstation.
Officers repeatedly ordered Nazario out of his SUV. Gutierrez warned that Nazario would 'ride the lightning' if he did not get out.
Nazario repeatedly asked, "Why am I being stopped?" by holding his hands up in the air and outside the driver-side window.
Nazario said, 'I am honestly afraid of getting out.
Gutierrez replied, 'You shouldn't be'.
Nazario stayed inside the vehicle. Gutierrez pepper-sprayed him through the window. The lawsuit states that after Nazario got out of the SUV, officers ordered him to get down, and Gutierrez used his knees in order to hit Nazario's leg.
In court documents Nazario stated that he had developed anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Nazario is Black and Latino. A psychologist determined that he suffers from race trauma related to violent police encounters.
His lawsuit stated that Mr.
Nazario has sued Crocker, Gutierrez and others. Crocker was still in the force. Gutierrez, however, was terminated in April 2021 - the same month Nazario brought his lawsuit.
They denied that they ever threatened to kill Nazario. They claimed that Nazario misinterpreted Gutierrez's claim that Nazario "fixed to ride the Lightning." Gutierrez said those words as he holstered his gun and drew his Taser, and was not referring to an execution.
Crocker and Gutierrez claimed that they did their duty within the law when Nazario refused to stop and immediately exit his car. A federal judge had already determined that they had probable grounds to stop Nazario because of an incorrectly displayed license plate and charge him with obstruction of justice, failure to obey, and eluding the police.
Gutierrez, in court documents, questioned Nazario's mental suffering and noted that the soldier was still in National Guard during the months preceding the trial.
The jury in the January trial had to examine Nazario’s claims that he had been illegally searched, beaten, assaulted and falsely detained.
The jury found Gutierrez guilty of assault and awarded Nazario compensatory damages in the amount of $2,685.
Nazario was also awarded $1,000 as punitive damages by the jury for Crocker's illegal searches of Nazario’s SUV. Crocker's liability for the search had been ruled by a federal judge.
The jury found against Nazario and his claims of battery, assault and false imprisonment. The jury found Gutierrez in favor regarding Nazario's allegations of battery, false arrest and illegal search.
The judge denied Nazario’s request for a retrial on Wednesday but acknowledged that "reasonable people could find" in favor of the soldier. Young wrote, however, that the credibility and weight of the evidence was not enough to justify the "extraordinary step" of overturning the jury verdict.
Young agreed with Nazario in one respect: Virginia law dictates that the soldier is entitled to compensatory damages, on top of $1,000 punitive damages awarded by the jury for Crocker’s illegal search.
The judge awarded Nazario $1 as nominal damages to "ensure that his rights under U.S. Constitution are vindicated."