Nazario v. Gutierrez, Civil Action 2:21CV169 (RCY)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtRoderick C. Young, United States District Judge.
PartiesCARON NAZARIO, Plaintiff, v. JOE GUTIERREZ, in his personal capacity, and DANIEL CROCKER, in his personal capacity, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action 2:21CV169 (RCY)
Decision Date09 August 2022


JOE GUTIERREZ, in his personal capacity, and DANIEL CROCKER, in his personal capacity, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 2:21CV169 (RCY)

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

August 9, 2022


Roderick C. Young, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on three motions: (1) Defendant Crocker's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 77), (2) Defendant Gutierrez's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 79), and (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 81). The motions have been fully briefed, and the Court dispenses with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the Court, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 7(J). For the reasons stated below, the Court will: (1) grant in part and deny in part Defendant Crocker's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 77), (2) grant in part and deny in part Defendant Gutierrez's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 79), and (3) grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 81).



The Court recounts the relevant facts as alleged in the Complaint. This action arises from a traffic stop involving Caron Nazario (“Plaintiff”) and two police officers employed by the Town of Windsor, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker (“Defendants” or “the Officers”). (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Medical Corps, and he is of Latinx and African American descent. (Id. ¶ 9.) On December 5, 2020, at approximately 6:34 p.m., Plaintiff was driving through the Town of Windsor, Virginia, in his newly purchased 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe. (Id. ¶ 13.) The Department of Motor Vehicles had not yet issued permanent plates for the vehicle, so Plaintiff had a cardboard temporary plate taped to the inside of the rear window. (Id.)

Defendant Crocker initiated a traffic stop of Plaintiff by activating his emergency lights and siren. (Id. ¶ 14.) Defendant Crocker initiated the stop because he did not see a license plate on the vehicle. (Def. Crocker Answer ¶¶ 13-14, ECF No. 20.) Later, Defendant Gutierrez joined in the pursuit. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff put on his turn signal and slowed down but continued driving. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16; Compl. Ex. 4 at 0:00-1:45, ECF No. 1-2.) Once he arrived at a well-lit gas station, approximately a mile down the road, he pulled over. (Compl. Ex. 4 at 1:35-45.) The Officers exited their vehicles and trained their firearms on Plaintiff. (Id. at 1:50-55.) Plaintiff repeatedly asked the Officers, “What's going on?” and asked why they had their guns drawn. (Id. at 1:55-3:30.) Defendants ordered Plaintiff to put his hands outside of his car window, Plaintiff complied, and Defendants later demanded that Plaintiff exit his vehicle. (Id.) Defendant remained


in his vehicle. (Id.) At one point, Defendant Gutierrez warned Plaintiff that he was “fixin' to ride the lightening”[2] by not obeying their orders to exit the vehicle. (Id. at 3:30-40.) Plaintiff told Defendants that he was afraid to leave the vehicle to which Defendant Gutierrez responded, “Yeah, you should be.” (Id. at 3:50-4:00.)

After several more commands to leave the vehicle, Defendant Gutierrez grabbed Plaintiff's arm in an attempt to remove him from the vehicle. (Id. at 4:15-20.) When that was unsuccessful, Defendant Gutierrez removed his Oleoresin Capsicum spray (“OC spray”) and shook it multiple times in front of Plaintiff while ordering Plaintiff to get out of the vehicle. (Id. at 4:25-28.) Defendant Crocker then reached through the vehicle's window to unlock the door and attempted to open the door, but he was unable to do so as Plaintiff held the door closed with his elbow. (Id. at 4:28-46.) During this time, Plaintiff repeatedly asked the Officers to calm down and again asked, “What is going on?” (Id.) Defendant Gutierrez then told Defendant Crocker to back up, before using, without warning, his OC spray on Plaintiff four separate times. (Id. at 4:45-58.) Defendant Gutierrez then told Plaintiff that if he did not exit the vehicle, he would be sprayed again. (Id. at 4:55-5:20.) Defendant Gutierrez opened the car door and continued his demand for Plaintiff to get out of the car and go straight to the ground. (Id. at 5:35-6:25.) Plaintiff eventually left the vehicle, but he remained standing. (Id. at 6:25-35.) Defendant Gutierrez then kneed him twice before the Officers forced the Plaintiff to the ground and handcuffed him. (Id. at 6:35-7:55.) Throughout the Officers' attempts to take him to the ground, Plaintiff attempted to remain in place. (Id.)

After handcuffing him, Defendant Crocker asked Plaintiff if he had any weapons on his


person or in the vehicle. (Id. at 8:15-25.) Before Plaintiff could respond, Defendant Gutierrez joined the conversation and asked Plaintiff why he had not obeyed their orders. (Id. at 8:40-50.) Defendants moved Plaintiff and propped him up against a trashcan several feet from his vehicle and resumed talking with him. (Id. at 9:00-:20.) Defendant Crocker then left to get water for Plaintiff from the gas station. (Id. at 9:20-10:15.) Around the time he returned, two medics arrived at the scene to assist Plaintiff with the effects of the OC spray. (Id. 10:15-20.) During Plaintiff's conversation with the two medics and Defendant Gutierrez, one of the medics asked about the location of the firearm. (Id. at 18:48-52.) Plaintiff said, “It's right there” and pointed his head in the direction of the driver's seat. (Id. at 18:50-55.) After that exchange, Defendant Crocker entered Plaintiff's vehicle and searched for the firearm. (Id. at 19:00-25.) Once Defendant Crocker located the firearm, he radioed the serial number back to dispatch, which reported that the firearm was not stolen. (Id. 19:35-55.) He then returned the firearm to the vehicle. (Id. at 19:55-20:05.)

The parties continued their conversation during which Defendant Crocker stated that he understood why Plaintiff waited until a well-lit area to stop but explained why it gave him concern. (Compl. Ex. 5 at 1:40-2:15.) After calling the Windsor Chief of Police, Defendant Gutierrez gave Plaintiff a choice: he could either be arrested and “fight it . . . which is [his] right as a citizen” or he could “chill and let [it] go.” (Compl. Ex. 5 at 04:20-6:57, ECF No. 1-2.) Plaintiff chose not to be arrested. (Id. at 7:40-9:00.)

After the traffic stop, both Defendants wrote narratives of the event for their official records. (Compl. ¶ 58.) In these narratives, they alleged that Plaintiff's vehicle had no license plate displayed, Plaintiff disregarded Defendant Crocker's lights and siren, Plaintiff did not comply with orders and was actively resisting, Plaintiff assaulted Defendant Gutierrez, and Defendant Gutierrez gave Plaintiff a warning before spraying him with OC spray. (Id. ¶¶ 60-63.)



Plaintiff filed his Complaint on April 2, 2021. (ECF No. 1.) On April 16, 2021, this action was reassigned from Judge Robert G. Doumar to the undersigned. On May 14, 2021, Defendant Gutierrez filed an Answer on May 14, 2021. (ECF No. 17.) On May 17, 2021, Defendant Crocker filed an Answer. (ECF No. 20.)

On January 12, 2022, Defendant Crocker filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Memorandum in Support. (ECF Nos. 77-78.) Plaintiff filed an Opposition on January 26, 2022. (ECF No. 94.) Defendant Crocker filed a Reply on February 1, 2022. (ECF No. 99.)

Defendant Gutierrez filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Memorandum in Support on January 12, 2022. (ECF Nos. 79-80.) Plaintiff filed an Opposition on January 26, 2022. (ECF No. 95.) Defendant Gutierrez filed a Reply on February 1, 2022. (ECF No. 101.)

Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Memorandum in Support on January 12, 2022. (ECF Nos. 81-82.) Defendant Crocker filed a Response Brief on January 26, 2022. (ECF No. 90.) Defendant Gutierrez filed a Memorandum in Opposition on January 26, 2022. (ECF No. 93.) Plaintiff filed a Reply on February 1, 2022. (ECF No. 100.)


A. Summary Judgment

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide the standard for this matter. Rule 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 243 (1986). The evidence must be viewed


“in the light most favorable to . . . the nonmovant, and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor.” Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 645 (4th Cir. 2002).

When both parties have moved for summary judgment, the Court must review “each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law.” Republic W. Ins. Co. v. Williams, 212 Fed. App'x. 235, 237 (4th Cir. 2007). “The fact that both sides moved for summary judgment does not establish that there is no issue of fact and require that judgment be granted for one side or the other.” Am. Fid. & Cas. Co. v. London & Edinburgh Ins. Co., 354 F.2d 214, 216 (4th Cir. 1965).

B. Qualified Immunity

The doctrine of qualified immunity “balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Person v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); Wingate v. Fulford, 987 F.3d 299, 310-11 (4th Cir. 2021). The burden of establishing a qualified...

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