The Cop Who Pepper-Sprayed Lt. Caron Nazario Has Been Fired

Officer Joe Gutierrez was terminated after an internal investigation, but there’s been no action against Officer Daniel Crocker, who initiated the traffic stop.
April 12, 2021, 2:04pm
Screen Shot from body-cam footage

The Virginia police officer who pepper-sprayed Army Second Lt. Caron Nazario while he was in uniform during a traffic stop—an incident captured on now-viral body camera footage—has been fired. 

Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez was terminated after an internal investigation “determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed” during the December 5 encounter with Nazario, according to a statement posted to the town’s website Sunday. 

Advertisement

Gutierrez’s body camera footage shows the officer screamed at Nazario to get out of his newly purchased SUV, warned the Black and Latino man he “should be” afraid after he said that he was scared to exit his vehicle, and told him he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning.” 

However, it’s not entirely clear whether Gutierrez was fired before or after the traffic stop garnered widespread attention over the weekend; Town Manager William Saunders told the Virginian-Pilot Wednesday that both Gutierrez and his colleague, Officer Daniel Crocker, remained employed with the department. 

The town did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment, and the police department’s voice mailbox appears to be full. 

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered an independent investigation into the officers’ encounter with Nazario, which he called “disturbing.” The Virginia State Police confirmed on Twitter that the agency was initiating a criminal probe. 

“I am inviting Army medic Lieutenant Caron Nazario to meet soon—we must all continue the larger dialogue about reform in our country,” Gov. Northam said in a statement posted to Twitter Sunday.

Nazario alleged in an April 2 lawsuit against Crocker and Gutierrez that the incident violated his constitutional rights. Crocker initiated the traffic stop because he believed that Nazario’s SUV lacked a rear license plate, though a temporary tag is visible in officers’ body camera footage, according to the complaint. 

A police narrative filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit alleges that since the vehicle lacked plates, had dark tinted windows, and took a long time to stop after it traveled a short distance to a well-lit BP gas station before pulling over, the encounter was treated as a high-risk traffic stop. 

After Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario in the course of the incident, the lieutenant was put in handcuffs. Later, Nazario was threatened with charges that could have destroyed his military career if he tried to seek redress, according to the lawsuit. The officers allegedly told him he could leave without charges if he would just “chill and let this go.”

Jonathan Arthur, an attorney for Nazario, called Gutierrez’s termination a “good start” in an email to VICE News Monday.

“We understand that Crocker has not been terminated, and that is astounding,” Arthur said. “Further, and most unfortunate is that we have no reason to believe that Gutierrez has been decertified—meaning he could go down the road and get hired at another department to continue to run roughshod over the rights of others.”

Arthur said he’s looking forward to the investigation ordered by Northam. 

 The town of Windsor said it was also supportive of an investigation into the encounter, noting in a statement Sunday that it has “remained transparent” about the traffic stop. 

“The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department,” the town said in a statement Sunday. “Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light.  Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”