A jury ruled on Tuesday in favor of a Black Army officer who sued Virginia police for brutality demonstrated on bodycam video that showed excessive force for a nonviolent moving violation. But in doing so, that same jury added “insult to injury” by largely siding with the defendants and awarding Army Lt. Caron Nazario less than $4,000 of the $1 million he sued for claiming his civil rights were violated when cops pointed guns at him, pepper sprayed him, and violently pushed him to the ground during a traffic stop in 2020.
Nazario was given $3,685 in total — $1,000 in punitive damages for having his civil rights violated and $2,685 in compensatory damages for being assaulted, the Washington Post reported — a small fraction of what he was asking for.
The video footage from the traffic stop for Nazario’s vehicle failing to display license plates properly was particularly damning when it went viral.
When two officers asked Nazario to exit his vehicle, Nazario asked why he needed to get out and told the cops he was “honestly afraid.”
Joe Gutierrez, one of the Windsor Police Department officers named in the lawsuit, validated Nazario’s fear by shouting at him: “Yeah, you should be!”
That’s when Nazario was pepper-sprayed directly in his face while his hands were up in the air before officers pulled him from the vehicle, assaulted, and handcuffed him on the ground of a gas station parking lot.
Gutierrez, who commented that Nazario made things “more difficult” for himself by not immediately complying, was eventually fired over the incident, which means he ultimately made things “more difficult” on himself by believing, as many police officers do, that his non-compliance frustration justifies police brutality.
Nazario’s lawyer suggested that the jury’s ruling could empower other officers to do the same, or worse, to drivers they decide to pull over for such low-level violations in pre-textual traffic stops.
“With regard to the illegal search of Lt. Nazario’s vehicle, the jury awarded $0.00 – nothing damages to compensate Lt. Nazario, and awarded $1,000 punitive damages,” attorney Tom Roberts said in a statement. “Once again, it is unlikely that the verdict will send a message to police officers, other than to let them know that this behavior will not result in any meaningful consequences – It is open season on citizens in Virginia and across the county.”
Roberts added: “Adding insult to injury, it is a sad day. Citizens will not rest assured that scenes like this are not repeated with impunity.”
This is America.
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