A Virginia prosecutor tasked with reviewing the case of two local police officers who pepper-sprayed an Army lieutenant during a traffic stop late last year has begun examining the matter, according to a recent report.
Virginia’s Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell will determine whether to charge Windsor police officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez with crimes related to the traffic stop of U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario at a gas station in December 2020, the Daily Press reported late last week.
Bell did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request seeking comment and confirmation on Friday. He was tapped in April to serve as special prosecutor and told the news outlet details of the Virginia State Police investigation came in a “nice sized book.”
“Whatever decision I’m going to make, it will be based on what’s in that book,” Bell told the Daily Press. He later added: “I make my decisions based on the facts and the law.”
He added: “I don’t care about public opinion … My focus will be on what the officers can do and cannot do — what is legal and what is not legal.”
Body camera video of the incident captured the officers drawing their guns, pointing them at Nazario and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground.
Nazario raised his hands in the air outside his driver’s side window as he told the armed officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”
“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers responded.
Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was also pepper-sprayed and knocked to the ground by the officers, according to the lawsuit he filed in April against them.
The two sides in the case dispute what happened, but Crocker wrote in a report that he believed Nazario was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop.” Nazario’s attorney, Jonathan Arthur, told The Associated Press that Nazario wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area.
In this image made from Windsor, Va., police video, a police officer uses a spray agent on Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor. (Windsor Police via AP)
The incident began when Crocker radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows, police have said.
Nazario drove his SUV to a well-lit gas station where, according to the lawsuit, the two officers got out of their cars and immediately drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario.
The officers attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez then stepped back and pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times as officers yelled for him to get out of the car.
Nazario got out of the vehicle and asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck him multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated him.
Nazario, who was wearing his Army uniform at the time of the stop, was never charged with a crime and is alleging in his lawsuit that his constitutional rights were violated.
In his police report following the incident, Crocker said he explained to Nazario that he could be charged with improper display of license plates, obstruction of justice with force and assault on a law enforcement officer, among others, which could in turn lead to discipline from the military.
“I did not want to see NAZARIO’s career be ruined by poor judgement,” he wrote. “Nazario chose not to be charged.”
Meanwhile, in his report, Gutierrez wrote: “I made the decision to release him without charges.”
“The reason for this decision is simple; the military is the only place left where double jeopardy applies. Meaning that regardless of what happened in civilian court the military could still take punitive actions against him,” he continued. “Being a military veteran I did not want to see his career ruined over one erroneous decision.”
Windsor officials said in April that department policy wasn’t followed during the traffic stop and Gutierrez had been fired. According to the Daily Press, Crocker is still employed by Windsor Police Department.
Arthur has said Crocker needs to be fired, too.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.