A federal judge ruled that the US Army lieutenant who was violently arrested by a former Virginia officer can take his claims of false imprisonment to trial, according to The Associated Press. It was previously reported that prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against the officer. However,, he’ll be investigated for violating the lieutenant’s constitutional rights following the lieutenant’s lawsuit.
In 2020, Caron Nazario pulled into a gas station and two officers approached him with their guns drawn, per Nazario’s lawsuit. The officers stopped him because his rear license plate was not visible. They attempted to pull him out of his car and during the interaction he kept his hands in the air. Per the suit, one officer, Joe Gutierrez, pepper sprayed Nazario multiple times while yelling at him to get out.
When Nazario stepped out of the car, he asked for a supervisor and in response was struck in the knee and knocked to the ground. The other officer, Daniel Crocker, joined Gutierrez in striking Nazario on the ground. Nazario’s suit accuses the two officers of assault and battery.
More on the Nazario’s suit from AP News:
The federal judge ruled Tuesday that the officers had probable cause to pull Nazario over for an improperly displayed license plate, and to charge him with eluding police as well as obstruction of justice and failure to obey when he refused to exit the vehicle.
But the summary judgment Tuesday said federal immunity laws shield the two officers involved from facing Caron Nazario’s claims that they violated the Black and Hispanic soldier’s constitutional protections against excessive force and unreasonable seizure, as well as his right to free speech by allegedly threatening him with arrest if he complained about their behavior.
U.S. District Judge Roderick C. Young also ruled that the officer who initially pulled Nazario over is liable for illegally searching for a gun in the soldier’s SUV in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Virginia law, leaving the question of damages on that point up to a jury. Nazario had a concealed carry permit.
The use of force seemed unnecessary all around. Not only did Nazario comply with the officers’ commands, but he was met with aggression after already getting out of the car. If that didn’t seem vile enough, when Nazario said he was afraid to step out his vehicle, Gutierrez him, “You should be.”
Gutierrez was fired later violating department policy, per AP News.
Nazario’s attorney Tom Roberts told AP News the officers’ use of force was deliberate. “I think that there’s sufficient evidence to show that he was intentional in his actions. And I believe that he exceeded any authority to use force, and therefore he committed assault and battery,” he said.
The judge said Nazario’s claims of unlawful seizure and excessive force present questions about police misconduct that should be presented before a jury. Though, the stop and the officers’ commands were lawful.
“Whether it’s under federal law or whether it’s under state law, the jury is going to speak. And we hope that the jury is going to stand up and say that this behavior will not be tolerated,” said Jonathan Arthur, another attorney representing Nazario.