Army officer seeks new civil trial in Virginia over violent traffic stops

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Attorneys representing a U.S. Army lieutenant who was pepper sprayed, beaten and handcuffed during a traffic stop have filed a request for a new trial after a jury ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the officers would have.

Attorney Tom Roberts said a new trial was essential to show the justice system was working, WWBT-TV reported. The motion was filed Friday, days after a federal jury in Richmond ruled Lt. Caron Nazario had been awarded less than $4,000 in a lawsuit in which he had sought more than $1 million.

“He was shocked, everyone was shocked, the nation was shocked,” said Roberts, who is co-representing Nazario. Letting the verdict stand would be a miscarriage of justice, Roberts said.

Video of the 2020 incident in the small town of Windsor was viewed millions of times after Nazario filed the federal lawsuit, which highlighted fears of ill-treatment among black drivers and raised questions about appropriate police conduct.

The jury largely supports the Virginia Police Department, who was sued by an Army officer for obstructing traffic

Last week, the jury found former Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez liable for assault and awarded Nazario $2,685 in damages, according to attorneys on both sides of the case.

Roberts said a new trial was needed because the jury should also have found Gutierrez had beaten and wrongly jailed Nazario.

“In the circumstances, with the assault that the jury found, it triggers the right for him to have that reasonable resistance to say, I’m afraid to get out of the car and stay in his car,” Roberts said. “Therefore, anything they did after that point constitutes assault and assault.”

The jury also awarded Nazario $1,000 in punitive damages after Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker illegally searched Nazario’s SUV, attorneys said. A federal judge ruled last year that Crocker was liable for the search.

Anne Lahren, one of Crocker’s attorneys, said in a statement Monday that they planned to appeal the request for a new trial this week.

“A motion for a new trial seeks an extraordinary remedy reserved for the courts for extraordinary circumstances, which do not exist here,” Lahren said. “Caron Nazario is unhappy with the jury’s verdict and seeks to blame the trial itself rather than the merits, or lack thereof, of his own claims. We are firmly convinced that the jury was correct in its verdict.”

The jury ruled in favor of Crocker and against Nazario’s allegations of assault, assault and false imprisonment, attorneys said. The jury found in Gutierrez’s favor on the soldier’s claims of battery, false detention and illegal search.

Crocker is still in action, but Gutierrez was fired in April 2021, the same month Nazario filed his lawsuit.

In August, a special prosecutor ruled that Gutierrez should not be criminally charged but should be investigated for possible civil rights violations.

Photo: In this image from Windsor, Virginia police video, a police officer uses a spray on Caron Nazario, an Army lieutenant who is black and Hispanic, in Windsor, Virginia, on December 20, 2020. A trial in federal court in Richmond was held Monday, January 9, 2023 over the lawsuit of the US Army lieutenant who was pepper sprayed, beaten and handcuffed by police during a traffic stop but was never arrested. (Windsor Police via AP, File)

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.


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