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Army officer in viral police video is a Virginia State grad: 'He’s just a nice, humble guy.'

Posted at 7:33 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 12:37:54-04

ETTRICK, Va. -- A Virginia Army Officer suing the Windsor Police Department for violating his constitutional rights following a traffic stop in December lives in Petersburg and graduated from Virginia State University.

Those who know Lt. Caron Nazario said they were horrified to see how two officers treated the uniformed Army officer, who they said is a thoughtful, “salt of the Earth” kind of man.

Bill Nicholson said he knows Lt. Nazario through the historic preservation community in Petersburg.

They met about a year ago.

“He and I expressed interest in some of the same properties; we became friends,” Nicholson said. “A very positive impact; he’s taking properties that have been abandoned for years, decades, and saving them.”

“I just couldn’t believe that they would do that to him,” he said of the video from the December traffic stop in which the officers hold Lt. Nazario at gunpoint and pepper spray him, before eventually releasing him without charges.

The officers initiated the stop because they could not see the temporary tags for Lt. Nazario’s newly purchased SUV, according to police reports.

Lt. Nazario’s attorney said he drove to a well-lit gas station along Route 460 when the officers first turned on their lights; the officers said he was eluding and initiated a “high-risk stop.”

Officer Joe Gutierrez has been terminated in connection to the incident, town officials said.

Seeing the ordeal on video left Nicholson flummoxed because Lt. Nazario had not mentioned the situation in recent months.

“You could see how calm he was. He was quintessential Caron,” Nicholson said of Lt. Nazario’s demeanor on the tape. “He’s just a nice, humble guy. Just seems like the salt of the Earth, he’s really a nice person.”

Lt. Nazario graduated from Virginia State University in 2016 and the school’s ROTC program.

Freda Thomas, an administrator with VSU ROTC, knew Lt. Nazario as a cadet.

“I just couldn’t believe it would happen to one of ours,” she said. “Loved his character. He had a very sweet demeanor about him.”

The first question that Thomas said jumped into her mind over the weekend after viewing the video of the traffic stop for the time: why?

“I would have done the same thing. I know Rt. 460 really well. It is dark, and he did the right thing, pulling where it was lit because if it was in the dark, we probably wouldn’t have known what was going on,” Thomas said. “He did everything that he was supposed to do, looking at the video and everything. I was just really disappointed in how the officers treated him since he was a lieutenant in uniform.”

Dr. Makolah Abdullah, President of VSU, said the incident is yet another reminder about the importance of continuing the dialogue about how police should interact with community members.

Last summer, VSU launched a task force to spark conversations between local law enforcement leaders and the Trojan community.

“We’ve started the kind of dialogue where we can help to inform policing around our area while at the same time teaching our young people,” Dr. Abdullah said. “Whether he was wearing military uniform or plain clothes, whether he was a VSU graduate or not, whether he was a member of the army or not, he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”

Dr. Abdullah said he would like to meet with Lt. Nazario, if willing and able, in the near future and that the V.S.U. community supports him.