Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Army Lt. Caron Nazario was awarded less than $4,000 by a federal jury in a case stemming from a 2020 incident in which Nazario was pepper-sprayed by police during a traffic stop while in uniform.
The lieutenant, who is a Black and Hispanic medic in the U.S. Army, was seeking $1 million in the case, alleging Windsor, Va., Police Department officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker threatened his life and assaulted him. The officers were seen on video pointing their firearms at Nazario after pulling him over for a missing license plate.
Nazario asked the officers to explain why he was being pulled over. The officers responded by yelling at him to exit the vehicle, which he was hesitant to do. Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario and forced him out of the vehicle after telling him he was going to "ride the lightning," in a reference to being executed in the electric chair.
The jury ordered the officers to pay a sum of $3,685. Crocker was ordered to pay $1,000 for committing an unlawful search of Nazario's vehicle, which his attorney said he admitted did not follow proper procedure, according to ABC 8 News in Richmond. Gutierrez must pay $2,685 for assaulting Nazario.
Nazario's attorney Jonathan Arthur said he is pleased to see that the jury decided there were limits to what it would tolerate from police officers, but he said he is disappointed the jury did not punish the officers on some of the charges against them.
Richard Matthews, a defense attorney for Crocker, said the jury was "courageous" in its ruling "given the political climate," NBC 12 Richmond reports.
In 2021, Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring launched a civil rights investigation into whether Nazario was the victim of systemic misconduct by the Windsor Police Department.
"People of color continue to experience brutality and being pepper-sprayed and even killed at the hands of law enforcement, and it has got to stop," he said.
At the conclusion of the investigation in December 2021, Herring filed a lawsuit against the department.
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Herring's investigation found Black drivers were pulled over 200% to 500% more often than expected over the course of 14 months based on the population in the surrounding area.
The town of Windsor argued that Herring's lawsuit was politically motivated in a statement released the same day the lawsuit was filed. Current Attorney General Jason Miyares has since taken up the lawsuit, which is yet to be resolved.