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Officer fired amid call from Virginia governor to investigate treatment of Army lieutenant during traffic stop

By PETER COUTU | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: April 11, 2021

WINDSOR, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Hours after Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday said he directed state police to investigate the treatment of a Black Army second lieutenant by two Windsor police officers, the town announced one of the officers had been fired.

A video, which went viral last week and has been viewed more than 11 million times, shows two officers immediately drawing their guns and pointing them at Caron Nazario — who is Black and Latino and was in uniform — as he sat in his SUV after being pulled over.

The termination of officer Joe Gutierrez came after an internal investigation found that department policy was not followed, the town manager said in a statement Sunday night.

It’s not clear exactly when Gutierrez was fired or when the internal investigation was completed. On Wednesday, Town Manager William G. Saunders told The Virginian-Pilot in an email that officers Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, the other officer involved in the traffic stop, were still employed by the police department.

During that December encounter, police pepper sprayed Nazario, 27, multiple times with his dog in the back seat, bodycam footage shows. He repeatedly asked what was going on.

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Once Nazario exited his vehicle, an officer responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says.

Nazario was treated at the scene by medics and released with no charges.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court last week, alleges the stop was illegal, the two officers didn’t have probable cause to charge Nazario with any crimes and they threatened to ruin the Army officer’s military career to cover their misdeeds.

The treatment of Nazario quickly drew outrage, including from prominent Virginia politicians, and picked up national news coverage.

In a statement released Sunday, Northam called the incident “disturbing” and said it angered him. He invited Nazario to meet soon. Saunders said in a statement the internal investigation resulted in unspecified disciplinary action and departmentwide requirements for more training began in January.

He said the town has also joined the request for an investigation into the incident by the state police in order to get a full review of the actions of the officers.

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