‘He’s changed,’ Nazario’s girlfriend tells jurors on second trial day of Windsor police lawsuit

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2023

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Virginia National Guard 1st. Lt. Caron Nazario isn’t the same person 32-year-old Sadie Madu met and fell in love with in 2017, and hasn’t been since he was pulled over by Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker and ex-officer Joe Gutierrez the night of Dec. 5, 2020, she says.

Madu, a high school counselor and doctoral student at Nazario’s alma mater, Virginia State University, testified in Richmond the afternoon of Jan. 10, the second day of a weeklong trial to resolve Nazario’s claims of “false imprisonment” and “assault and battery” by the officers.

“He’s just different,” Madu said. He’s changed.”

Nazario, who is of Black and Latino descent, filed a federal lawsuit in 2021 accusing the two white officers of racially motivated police brutality for having held him at gunpoint during the 2020 traffic stop and 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.

Madu recalled on the witness stand that Nazario had knocked on the door of the couple’s Petersburg home the night of the incident wearing only his boxer shorts and carrying a jug of milk, though he had a key and could have let himself in. She then saw him head straight to the bathroom and heard what sounded like his turning on the water and dousing himself repeatedly with the milk.

When she asked him what was wrong, he told her about his encounter with Crocker and Gutierrez. The next morning, she heard him watching a video on repeat, and recognized Nazario’s voice in the recording. The video was the cellphone footage he’d recorded from his car of the interaction.

Nazario’s attorney, Jonathan Arthur, showed the jury the video on Jan. 9, as well as footage of the incident each officer’s body-worn camera had captured.

Over the past two years since the incident, Nazario has watched the cellphone video “too many” times to count, Madu testified,He sometimes cries while doing so, but that hasn’t stopped him from replaying it over and over, she said, sometimes to the point of ignoring the couple’s newborn son.

Madu said she began noticing changes while the two were on vacation and the normally frugal Nazario was all of a sudden taking a “you-only-live-once” attitude to his spending. Then, in February 2021, the nightmares began.

Nazario, she said, started talking in his sleep, even shouting statements like, “It’s the risk of driving while Black!” – a sentiment he hadn’t expressed prior to his encounter with the two officers. He’s also urinated in the bed two to three times over the past two years, and sometimes starts “grabbing his gun.”

Nazario holds a concealed carry permit for a handgun and had the weapon with him in the car the night he was pulled over. After Gutierrez forced Nazario from his car, Crocker had removed the firearm and checked its serial number, which U.S. District Court Judge Roderick Young ruled in August constituted an illegal search.

Nazario has always “been one to have a gun,” Madu said, but since the 2020 incident has started carrying the gun from room to room inside the couple’s home, and continues to do so to this day. Since the birth of the couple’s son in September 2022, Madu and Nazario have stopped sleeping together, she testified.

“The up and down was just too much for me” as a “breastfeeding mother,” Madu said.

She’s also had to become cautious as to what words she uses when with him. If he hears the phrase, “not a problem,” he’ll start repeating over and over, “not a problem; back up, Daniel,” something Gutierrez had said to Crocker the night of the incident, Madu said. The phrase “just listen,” something Crocker had said to Nazario, also triggers his repetition response.

“I’m walking on eggshells around him,” Madu said.

In November 2022, he was pulled over by a different police department with his infant son in what Madu described as a “mix-up” over his pulling a U-Haul trailer that had been reported stolen. Nazario, who had testified himself that morning, said he’d been unable to speak when he saw police approaching.

“No words were coming out … my body started shaking; I began crying,” Nazario said, recalling the only words he was finally able to blurt out were, “I was almost killed.”

Coreen Silverman, an attorney representing Gutierrez, cross-examined Madu regarding the 2022 incident, asking why she’d chosen to leave their son alone with Nazario if she “thought he would not be safe” around him, and why Nazario had been driving with their son by himself.

“That’s his father,” Madu replied, also noting that she works during the day.

Silverman then asked whether Nazario’s psychiatrist, Dr. James Sellman, had advised Nazario not to rewatch his recording of the Dec. 5, 2020, traffic stop, to which Madu answered, “yes,” and whether Madu makes a point of telling him not to rewatch the footage, to which she replied, “No, I don’t.”

Anne Lahren, an attorney representing Crocker, asked no questions of Madu. She then told Arthur during his opportunity to redirect the testimony that she has told Nazario to stay away from “things like that,” referring to the video, but that as a counselor herself, it would be unethical for her to treat a family member.

During the morning session of the trial’s second day, Nazario continued testimony he’d begun on Jan. 9 by telling jurors he’d been diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD symptoms, according to the American Psychiatric Association, can include nightmares or flashbacks, and feeling detached or estranged. It can occur as a result of living through combat, rape, a natural disaster, historical trauma, domestic violence or bullying.

Nazario’s sessions with Sellman over a year have cost him a cumulative $16,000. Sessions with   Shawn Utsey, a psychologist and Virginia Commonwealth University professor whose stated expertise includes “how race-related stress” impacts African Americans, has cost him an additional $7,000, Nazario testified.

The diagnosis, he contends, has also impacted his military career. The Army has initiated what it terms a “mental health profile” on him, which ended up barring him from deploying with his unit. As a result, he did not receive an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 in overseas pay.

He’d initially planned to make the Army his career and stay in until retirement age, but has “not met the Army’s recovery standard,” he testified, which he said means he could end up being discharged with veterans’ benefits or without depending on whether his condition is ruled a “line of duty” injury.

On cross examination, Silverman went after Nazario’s credibility, noting he’d been recorded telling the officers he was preparing in December 2020 to deploy to either Kuwait or Afghanistan, though he’d received no official written orders regarding the deployment. Arthur, given the opportunity to redirect, showed a Sept. 28, 2020, memorandum from Nazario’s Army command notifying him of a potential deployment to the Middle East in December 2021.

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.

Crocker’s legal team then cross examined Nazario on why he didn’t stop at any closer businesses along Route 460, to which Nazario replied, “Nothing stood out to me” before arriving at the BP.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.