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Windsor Officers refuse to apologize to army lieutenant who is suing them over traffic stop

Posted at 8:56 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 04:28:17-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Both Officer Daniel Crocker and former Officer Joseph Gutierrez told a Richmond jury on Wednesday that they did not believe they owed U.S. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario an apology for the traffic stop he is suing them over.

Nazario accused the pair of assault and battery, false imprisonment and illegal search of his vehicle during a traffic stop on U.S. 460 in the Town of Windsor on December 5, 2020.

The jury will have to decide if they believe the two officers acted reasonably when they pulled Nazario over.

Attorneys for Nazario wrapped up their case on Wednesday morning by calling attorney Mark Bong to testify.

Bong worked as a law enforcement officer for 12 years in Florida and is now a lawyer in Richmond who frequently represents police officers in court.

He testified that the actions of Officer Crocker, who is the officer who initiated the traffic stop, were not reasonable "at all," and the actions of Officer Gutierrez were also unreasonable.

Bong said a felony traffic stop — which involves pulling your gun — was not appropriate in this situation and was inconsistent with training policies and procedures.

"A felony traffic stop is initiated when an officer has direct knowledge a felonious act has occurred, or an officer has direct knowledge that an occupant in a vehicle has committed a felony in the past and is armed and dangerous," Bong said.

He said immediately pulling a gun and pointing it at Nazario was unreasonable and should only be done in extreme circumstances.

Bong said officers are trained to tell citizens why they are stopping them during a traffic stop, which did not occur during this stop.

He testified that pulling a gun on a driver and not informing them why they were pulled over can make a citizen very nervous and less likely to comply with demands due to their fear.

"If someone is so scared they are incapable of complying, asking them to comply is no longer reasonable," Bong said.

Officer Crocker said during his deposition that he thought Nazario's vehicle was stolen or carrying contraband because it did not have a license plate, had tinted windows and he drove the vehicle for 1.1 miles before pulling over.

He also said he believed the driver could be "waiting to assassinate him."

But Bong said that when a driver slows down during a traffic stop, pulls into a well-lit place, turns off the car and puts his hands out of the window — all of which Nazario did — those are signs the driver is being compliant and is unlikely to ambush the officer.

He also said any use of force, in this case, that would be the pepper spray Gutierrez sprayed at Nazario, that results from the police escalating a situation is unreasonable use of force.

On cross-examination, Gutierrez's lawyer pointed out cases where officers have been injured during traffic stops and reiterated that Nazario was in violation of the law by driving a car with an expired tag.

Lawyers for the defendants began to present their cases after lunch and called each officer to the stand to testify.

Former Officer Gutierrez said he immediately drew his gun because Officer Crocker radioed that this was a felony traffic stop.

He explained that when he said "you're fixin' to ride the lightning son," he meant he was prepared to deploy his taser.

Gutierrez said that while telling Nazario he "should be scared" to get out of the vehicle was a stupid statement, he did not believe either of his statements escalated the situation.

Officer Crocker took the stand next and showed a video that he shot one year after the incident in December of 2021 on the road where Nazario was pulled over.

He pointed out a number of lighted parking lots that Nazario could have pulled into instead of waiting for 1.1 miles to pull into the BP gas station.

Crocker said that, along with the lack of a back license plate on Nazario's SUV, his rear tinted window and his slowing down after he initiated his lights, gave him a "gut feeling" that there was a gun in the vehicle, and the driver was slowing down to ambush him.

The defense will continue to present its case on Thursday.

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