Two Cases of Traffic Stop Police Violence

Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario (he/him) has recently made national headlines. Back in 2020, Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was pepper sprayed by two police officers during a traffic stop in Windsor, Virginia. In April 2021, Nazario filed a lawsuit against the Windsor Police Department for $1.5 million in damages. The officers involved in the incident, Joe Gutierrez (he/him) and Daniel Crocker (he/him), were charged with four counts, including assault, battery, false imprisonment, and illegal search. However, on January 17th it was reported that a federal jury in Richmond, Virginia awarded Nazario only $3,685.

The jury found that Gutierrez did assault Nazario, making him pay $2,685 in compensation. They also ordered Crocker to pay $1,000 in punitive damages for the illegal search of Nazario’s vehicle. Both officers were cleared of all other charges. Nazario’s attorney, Tom Roberts (he/him), told AP News that “He [Nazario] was shocked, everybody was shocked, the nation was shocked.” In response, Roberts filed a motion asking for a new trial on January 20th. CNN reports, “the motion calls for a new trial on all claims except for the liability of assault against Gutierrez and the liability of the search against Crocker.” One of Crocker’s attorneys, Anne Lahren (she/her), has since made a statement about plans to file an opposition to the motion.

Nazario’s case appears to be only one in an ongoing pattern of violence during traffic stops, especially in light of recent news of the deadly encounter between 29-year-old Tyre Nichols (he/him) and the Memphis Police Department in Tennessee. On January 7th, Nichols was stopped by officers near his home. He was pulled out of his car and onto the ground, tased, and sprayed with pepper spray. He fled, and the pursuing officers beat him. Nichols was hospitalized and passed away three days later. Video of the incident was released to the public by the Memphis Police Department on January 27th. It prompted widespread outrage, with protests in Memphis and around the country. Five officers involved in the attack have been fired and charged with second-degree murder, among other counts, and an additional two officers were suspended.

All five officers charged are African-American. (One of the suspended officers is White, and the other’s identity is unknown.) Their involvement in Nichols’ death shocked not just the nation, but the Black community especially. Rick Rojas (he/him) wrote for The New York Times that many view the incident as “as much of an indictment of the country’s policing culture as of the individual officers in the footage.” Author and political commentator Michael Harriot (he/him) wrote on Twitter, “Tyre Nichols was killed by Black, college-educated cops who received extra training and passed required psychological exams. How’s that ‘We-don’t-need-to-defund-the-police-we-just-need-a-better-trained-more-educated-more-diverse-police-force’ thing working out?”

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