Condemning Police Abuse of a Law-Abiding Black and Latino Driver
Statement. Once again, video has captured an unprovoked assault by police on a person of color. Fortunately, there is clear video evidence of most of the encounter, including body-cam footage from both of the police officers directly involved. The victim, Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario, has filed a civil rights complaint against the police officers in federal court in Norfolk. Governor Northam has directed the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation and has invited Second Lieutenant Nazario to meet with him. One of the police officers involved has been fired and the local police force has instituted additional training for its officers.
On the night of December 5, 2020, Second Lieutenant Nazario, who was in uniform, was driving his new car about thirty miles west of Norfolk when a police car signaled for him to pull over. The police later asserted that Nazario’s car lacked a rear license plate. Nazario’s complaint says that in the darkness the police officers may not at first have seen his temporary tag, although it was posted prominently and appropriately in his rear window.
Nazario drove -- slowly -- to the nearest lighted area, a gas station. The police claim that Nazario’s failure immediately to pull over transformed this into a “high-risk” stop, although they have admitted that persons of color who are signaled to pull over in a dark stretch of road often drive to a lighted area before stopping. Because they now considered this a high-risk situation, when Nazario pulled into the gas station the police drew their guns on him. The video shows that they screamed at him to hold his hands outside his window but at the same time yelled that he should get out of his car. Clearly he couldn’t comply with both instructions at once -- he would need to bring at least one hand inside his car to release his seat belt and the door handle. Nazario sensibly chose to keep both of his hands in plain view. Nazario’s failure to get out of the car infuriated the officers, who became increasingly agitated and eventually pepper-sprayed him in the face. The video also shows that after the police finally allowed Nazario to use one hand to get out of the car, they knocked him to the ground, handcuffed him, and continued to threaten him. Allegedly they beat him as well.
The police eventually called a medic to treat Nazario and the local police chief arrived to evaluate the situation. The officers then offered Nazario a choice: he could agree not to complain about the incident or they would charge him with serious crimes they knew he hadn’t committed, including obstruction of justice, eluding arrest, and assaulting a police officer. In the end, the two officers filed reports saying that they chose as a matter of discretion not to charge Nazario because they didn’t want to ruin his military career.
Second Lt. Nazario did nothing wrong. He was driving with the required tags. He stopped as soon as reasonably feasible when the police signaled for him to pull over. He complied with the officers’ orders to show his hands and could not at the same time comply with their other command that he get out of his car. He did not elude arrest or assault anyone. Throughout the incident he spoke in a calm voice that should have defused the situation. When the police officers finally regained control of themselves, instead of apologizing to Second Lieutenant Nazario, they tried to buy his silence by threatening to fabricate charges against him. This abuse of police authority was apparently approved by the local chief.
Resolution. WHEREAS the Black and Latino Caucuses of the Arlington County Democratic Committee are dedicated to promoting social justice and equity for Black and Latino members of our community;
WHEREAS 2LT Caron Nazario was stopped without cause by police officers acting in their official capacity;
WHEREAS these police officers failed to use reasonable care to ascertain whether 2LT Nazario had committed a traffic infraction;
WHEREAS these police officers proceeded to intimidate, humiliate, pepper-spray, and otherwise physically abuse 2LT Nazario while he was in uniform, all without cause or provocation;
WHEREAS these police officers threatened to fabricate serious charges against 2LT Nazario in order to frighten him into remaining silent about their own misconduct; therefore be it
Resolved, that the Black and Latino Caucuses of the Arlington County Democratic Committee hereby:
- Condemn the police abuse of 2LT Nazario, including stopping him without cause, threatening him with violence, physically mistreating him, and threatening to charge him with crimes they knew he had not committed;
- Support a thorough, independent investigation of police actions against 2LT Nazario, together with the public release of a comprehensive report of its findings;
- Demand review of police rules governing traffic stops throughout Virginia to ensure that all of them clearly prohibit abuse and humiliation such as that suffered by 2LT Nazario; and
- Demand that all police officers involved in any aspect of the stop of 2LT Nazario and its aftermath be appropriately disciplined, as confirmed by an independent review.