Nazario trial witness has history of defending police shootings

Published 12:34 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

A self-described “Black conservative” social media commentator with a history of defending police shootings of African Americans is among the witnesses Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker plans to call in his defense when Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario’s $1 million lawsuit against him and ex-officer Joe Gutierrez goes to trial Jan. 9.

The federal case, which has been moved from Norfolk to Richmond, is set for a five-day trial. Nazario, who is of Black and Latino descent, accuses the two white officers of racially motivated police brutality for having held him at gunpoint during a Dec. 5, 2020, traffic stop while they shouted conflicting commands at him to keep his hands out of his car’s window and exit the vehicle. Video footage of the incident, which went viral in April 2021 and led to Gutierrez’s firing, culminates with Gutierrez repeatedly pepper-spraying Nazario and using knee strikes to force the lieutenant out of the car and onto the ground.

Crocker had pulled Nazario over for allegedly lacking a rear license plate. Gutierrez responded to the scene when Crocker reported a “felony traffic stop” to dispatchers. Nazario had a temporary New York plate taped to the inside of his car’s rear window, but Crocker said he didn’t see it and accused the lieutenant of eluding police for having driven roughly a mile down Route 460 to a BP gas station before stopping.

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Crocker, Gutierrez and Nazario each filed their witness lists in November.

Gutierrez and Crocker each listed themselves and Nazario as witnesses, as well as West Jordan, Utah, Police Chief Ken Wallentine, Virginia Beach-based psychologist Scott Sautter, Midlothian-based psychiatrist Dr. Keyhill Sheorn and Sadie Madu, a high school counselor and doctoral candidate at Nazario’s college alma mater, Virginia State University. Wallentine, according to his website, offers his services frequently as a use-of-force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil trials.

Crocker’s list also includes former Tucson, Arizona, police officer-turned-YouTube content creator Brandon Tatum.

Tatum published a video on his YouTube channel on April 11, 2021 – the day Gutierrez was fired – in which he narrates his explanation of Crocker’s and Gutierrez’s actions as seen from their body cameras.

Tatum begins his video by showing February 2021 footage of a New Mexico state trooper pulling over a pickup truck and politely asking the driver if he would mind surrendering his firearm during the interaction. The driver then exits the vehicle and shoots the officer dead, which Tatum characterizes as an example of “why police officers react the way they do.”

In another video, published Dec. 11, 2021, Tatum takes the side of Cleveland, Ohio, police officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who’d been playing in a public park with a toy gun.

“This kid ain’t showing no signs of being like, ‘I didn’t do nothing.’ … He may be a straight gangster, and you can be a gangster at his age,” Tatum states, also noting that the toy gun had looked realistic.

In the same video, Tatum described 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered by three white men in 2020 while jogging through a Georgia neighborhood, as looking “like a hood rat.” Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis, and William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of Arbery’s murder and of racially motivated hate crimes in connection with the killing earlier this year.

In 2020, when Louisville, Kentucky, police shot and killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, also Black, in her home – using a falsified affidavit to obtain a search warrant, according to the U.S. Department of Justice – Tatum told his followers on Facebook that an “anonymous source” had provided him with evidence of Taylor’s alleged involvement in crimes, writing, “Hopefully, this will stop the ‘Arrest the police who shot Breonna’ NONSENSE.” That same year, Tatum contended “slavery wasn’t about race; slavery wasn’t even racist … Africans sold them to Europeans, who then utilized that legal slavery in the United States of America” in a 2020 interview with The Sun, a British tabloid.

Tatum is listed among the witnesses Crocker definitely expects to call upon to testify. Gutierrez’s list has Tatum among witnesses who “may be called if the need arises.”

Isle of Wight County sheriff on Nazario’s list

Nazario’s witnesses include Crocker, Gutierrez, Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle, Isle of Wight County Sheriff James Clarke Jr. and Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Tommy Potter. Clarke and Potter will likely be called to testify regarding an April 2019 incident during Gutierrez’s tenure as an Isle of Wight sheriff’s deputy that resulted in his being suspended for 10 days without pay in lieu of outright termination for violating the Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force policy. The incident, according to court filings, involved an elderly Black man with the last name of Robinson, also during a traffic stop. The Sheriff’s Office confirmed to The Smithfield Times last year that body camera footage of the 2019 incident exists but declined to provide a copy to the Times. The Robinson incident footage is listed among the evidence Nazario’s attorney, Jonathan Arthur, intends to present to the court.

Nazario’s witnesses also include Richmond-based psychiatrist Dr. James Sellman; Shawn Utsey, a Virginia Commonwealth University psychology professor whose stated expertise includes “how race-related stress” impacts African Americans; Mark Bong, a former police officer-turned-criminal defense and family law attorney; Physician Assistant Christy Gambill; Doug Lacey, a former FBI electronics engineer whose resume lists expertise in authenticating and enhancing the intelligibility of audio and video recordings; and Madu.

U.S. District Judge Roderick C. Young dismissed some of Nazario’s claims in August but allowed others to move forward to trial – finding Crocker to have had “probable cause” to pull Nazario over, but ruling Crocker’s search and removal of a firearm from Nazario’s car was illegal.

The jury in the Jan. 9 trial will be tasked with deciding what damages to award Nazario for Crocker’s illegal search, whether Gutierrez has liability for Crocker’s search, and the merits of Nazario’s state-level “assault and battery” and “false imprisonment” claims.

A separate, first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought by the state attorney general against Windsor, alleging the town’s police department has repeatedly engaged in racially biased law enforcement and excessive force, is also pending in Isle of Wight Circuit Court.