Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced on Monday evening that his Office of Civil Rights would be investigating an incident in which a police officer pepper sprayed a uniformed Black Army medic named Lt. Caron Nazario during a traffic stop in December.
Herring told CNN that the behavior of the officer, Joe Gutierrez, and his fellow officer at the scene, Daniel Crocker, as shown in recently released video footage of the incident was “appalling” and “dangerous.”
“Under no reasonable use of force policies that I could say was any of this conduct be permissible,” the attorney general said. “And that’s why the investigation is important.”
“But it’s also important to find out: Is this is an isolated incident, or have there been reports in the past of unconstitutional policing or brutality or complaints about it about these officers, or about the department?” he added. “Because if so, then we’ve got more work to do in order to put a stop to it, to root it out, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Body cam video footage of the arrest became public amid Nazario’s lawsuit against Gutierrez and Crocker, who pulled over the lieutenant and held him at gunpoint when he drove through Windsor, Virginia in December. The footage shows Gutierrez shouting at Nazario to get out of the car while the medic calmly asks with his hands up why he was being pulled over.
At one point, Nazario tells the officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” to which Gutierrez responds, “Yeah, you should be.”
Several seconds after Nazario says “I’m actively serving this country and this is how you’re going to treat me?” Gutierrez is seen firing the pepper spray at the lieutenant’s face.
The officers reported that they had pulled over Nazario because his vehicle did not have license plates. Per NPR’s report on the lawsuit, Nazario’s lawyer states that the car, which was recently purchased, had two temporary license plates inside the car that were taped to the rear window and the passenger side.
The Windsor Police Department announced on Sunday that there would be an internal investigation into the incident and that Gutierrez had been terminated.
Scrutiny over Gutierrez and Crocker’s conduct comes amid anti-police brutality protests against the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a Black man who was killed at the hands of a police officer near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Meanwhile, the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis continues to unfold.