Virginia Police claim that when they give an order, you obey it.
But should we?
This was a bad stop. In a split second, it could have turned deadly.
I experienced a similar traffic stop when I was a teenager. Police officers claimed that they tried to flag me to stop my car, silently with their lights. At the time I had no idea that they were driving behind me or communicating with me at all.
Once they did stop my car I was nearly in the middle of an intersection. The officers treated me as though I had committed a major felony. At no point did the police tell me why they were stopping me. The officers did not tell me what they were going to do next. I was not charged for any crimes on this date but the officers treated me as though I had committed one.
1. Police are Not Required to Tell You Why They Stopped You or Even Your Potential Charges
Under the law and NYPD Patrol Guide, when a police officer stops or arrests you, they are not mandated to tell you your potential charges or even why they stopped you. However, if an officer gives you a Desk Appearance Ticket it will state your charge(s). Ultimately, you must be told what your charges are at arraignment in court.
In any case, back to your traffic stop.
2. Our Right to be Left Alone
According to the highest Court in New York State, we have a right to be left alone if the police do not have reasonable suspicion to stop us.
Reasonable suspicion is a suspicion that can be articulated.
It can’t be based on the fact that some <insert minority here> guy was driving a shiny new car and he looked nervous when police started following him. Thus, we have a right to be left alone if police cannot articulate something, really anything, under the penal code or a Vehicle and Traffic rule that we allegedly committed. It can’t be based on a hunch. Gut feelings are not good enough.
3. Not Stopping for Police, Does Not Create Reasonable Suspicion
The Court of Appeals has held that “individuals of whom the police have no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity have the right not to answer an officer’s question, or even to run from the police, without those acts creating grounds to detain that individual.”
The moment Virginia police ordered 2nd Lt. Nazario to stop his car and submit to whatever they were going to do, his Fourth Amendment rights were activated.
This means that the 4th Amendment mandates that 2nd Lt. Nazario was to be left alone and not be traffic-stopped, threatened with “lightning,” pepper-sprayed, pathetically kneed to the ground and handcuffed when the police failed to formulate an actual basis to stop him.
This also means 2nd Lt. Nazario was smart and within his rights to drive the speed limit and stop at a well-lit gas station. Camera footage is clearer in a well-lit place. The gas station would have witnesses. Selfie light ring to the rescue. Would headlines have changed if 2nd Lt. Nazario stopped right away on a dark street where there were no cameras or witnesses? Would we have heard from him again?
Paper License Plate Visible in Videos
The Virginia police claimed that they made the stop because they couldn’t see his plates, but you can see the rear window paper plate in videos online. Also, the DMV does not issue metal plates to new cars right away. Experienced, knowledgeable cops who regularly conduct traffic stops know this.
So what was the basis for the stop? What could Officer Gutierrez and Crocker articulate?
NBC News Now, April 10, 2021: Body-cam footage of Virginia police unlawful stop of 2nd Lt. Nazario
4. Traffic Stops Must Be Limited to What the Police Suspect We Did Wrong
According to the United States Supreme Court, the extent of a traffic stop must be limited to investigating the basis of the stop. In Lt. Nazario’s situation, police should have focused their inquiries and investigation on license plates.
“License. Registration. Where are your license plates?” The absence of these words from body-cam footage from Lt. Nazario’s arrest speaks volumes.
The Need to Show Superiority
Instead, it appears that these officers saw this situation as a question of their power over 2nd Lt Nazario. A man of color.
It’s clear that Officer Crocker and Officer Gutierrez viewed this encounter as a pissing match. In response, the officers voided all over 2nd Lt. Nazario’s rights by using unreasonable and unlawful force against him.
From the start, Officer Crocker immediately radioed “felony traffic stop” even before approaching 2nd Lt. Nazario’s car.
Under the Virginia Criminal Code, a felony stop involves a “person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede … any law enforcement officer.” When and where did Lt. Nazario commit a felony or threaten the officers? This radio communication served to trump up whatever these officers were going to allege against 2nd Lt. Nazario.
Guns Immediately Drawn
Next, Officer Gutierrez immediately draws his gun, sideways-pointing it at Lt. Nazario like a gangster from a bad good 90s movie. Was the gun going to help him find the license plates?
A Threat Against A Man’s Life
Way early on in the stop, Officer Gutierrez yells, “… You’re fixin to ride the lightning son.” Was Gutierrez going to ploy to send the Lt. to the electric chair? Here, Officer Gutierrez sounds less like a respectable officer and more like a Karen.
Finally, Officer Gutierrez repeatedly sprays Lt. Nazario in the eyes making it nearly impossible for him to see let alone follow Gutierrez’s orders to “get out of the car” and to “obey.”
Ultimately, this stop was so bad that Officer Gutierrez lost his job over it. Officer Gutierrez-Karen’s date with cancel culture.
In contrast, 2nd Lt. Nazario is still serving our country in the Army Medical Corps. According to the US Department of Army website, individuals who hold 2nd Lt. Nazario’s rank lead platoons of 15-50 soldiers. “The Army profession is a unique vocation of experts who are entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American people.”
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments define what rights 2nd Lt. Nazario and similarly situated individuals have during unlawful stops.
However, it is society, courts, and juries, who will dictate whether the criminal justice system will protect us if we have an unfortunate police encounter and have to exercise these rights.
[DISCLAIMER]: THE AFOREMENTIONED INFORMATION DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE SPECIFIC TO ANY INDIVIDUALS. ALL SITUATIONS MUST BE LEGALLY ASSESSED ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. THE ANALYSIS, AND QUITE FRANKLY OPINIONS, HAVE BEEN PRESENTED FOR PURPOSES OF COMMENTARY AND THE CURRENT STATE OF NEW YORK CRIMINAL LAW FROM THE DATE OF THE HEREIN POST.