The Case of Army Lieutenant Carson Nazario

By Audrey McGovern
April 22nd, 2021

On December 5, 2020, at 6:30 p.m., Army Lieutenant Carson Nazario was driving home on the U.S. 460 interstate when he was stopped by Windsor, Virginia police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker.

Carson was not speeding or violating any traffic laws. He had just purchased a new 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe and had not yet been issued a permanent license plate, and instead had his temporary tags legally displayed in his rearview window. Carson is of Black and Latinx descent and was in his U.S. military uniform at the time.

Lt. Carson Nazario was pulled over after officers Crocker and Gutierrez mistakenly believed that his missing license plate constituted a traffic violation. Lt. Carson pulled over to the nearest well-lit area after seeing the signals from the officers, a location which happened to be a nearby gas station.

Before officers Crocker and Gutierrez exit their vehicle, they inexplicably announce on a recording that they were dealing with a “felony” and “high risk” traffic stop, without any evidence to support those claims. When the officers did approach Lt. Carson’s car, they had their firearms pointed at him despite having no reason to believe Lt. Carson is a threat.

What happens next has been seen by thousands. At 0:20 seconds in the newly released footage from Gutierrez’s body cam, Lt. Carson says, with two guns pointed at him, that he is “honestly afraid to get out,” to which officer Gutierrez replies, “Yeah, you should be.”

At no point during this illegal stop did officers Gutierrez or Crocker inform Lt. Carson why he had been pulled over. Instead, they intimidate the U.S. Army Serviceman with threats and insinuate that he is facing execution, pepper spray him, push him to the ground, and handcuff him.

Less than a year after Lt. Carson’s experience, he is taking legal action against the officers, and attempting to sue for at least $1 million in damages on account of his first and fourth amendment being violated. Officer Gutierrez has since been terminated from his position.

The abhorrent and senseless violence Lt. Carson was subjected to has reignited discussions about ending qualified immunity, the legal practice that makes it almost impossible to hold police officers and government officials accountable for constitutional violations in court.

The Virginia NAACP has been demanding to Govern Ralph Northam that, “now is the time for the Governor of Virginia to call a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to pass HB 2045 sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne to finally end qualified immunity.”

Gov. Northam’s office did not respond directly to the demands made by the NAACP or state whether he aims to bring an end to the doctrine of qualified immunity in the statement released by his office on Monday, April 12, 2021. To this lack of acknowledgment, Da’Quan Love, the Virginia NAACP Executive Director said, “The time for statements is over. The time for action is now.”


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What Is Qualified Immunity, and What Does It Have to Do With Police Reform?

Police treatment of Black Army officer revives calls to end qualified immunity