Caron Nazario, 27, who is a black and latino second lieutenant, was pulled over on a traffic stop in the small town of Windsor, Virginia, in December last year, after officers Joe Gutierez and Daniel Crocker claimed his SUV had tinted windows and no rear licence plate.
Body camera footage shows Mr Nazario, who was returning from a drill weekend, dressed in uniform with his hands in the air and telling the armed officers who are pointing guns at him: “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”
“Yeah, you should be”, officer Joe Gutierrez is heard replying, as reported by The New York Daily News.
Moments earlier, Mr Gutierrez was told the driver that he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning”; a nickname for execution by electric chair, according to the lawsuit and a police video obtained byThe Virginian-Pilot.
Holding his hands in the air, Mr Nazario can be seen asking the officers to “relax” and explaining that he believes he has a right not to exit the vehicle.
He said: “I am actively serving this country and this is how you’re going to treat me? Hold on. I didn’t do anything. Hold on.”
In response one of the officers appears to pepper spray him in the eyes four times and demand he “get out of the car now”.
Nazario, suffering from the effects of the spray with closed eyes and hands raised, said: “That’s f***** up”.
The officer then opens the door and repeatedly demands he get out of the car.
“You made this way more difficult than it had to be if you just complied”, said the officer.
He then appears to push Mr Nazario, who is tearful, to the ground as the lieutenant asks: “Pease talk to me about what is going on?”
The body cam footage ends there but the officers are accused of urging Mr Nazario to “chill and let this go” or he could be charged with assault on a police officer.
Mr Nazario filed his civil suit at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia last week, claiming they violated his constitutional rights and that his race played a factor.
The lawsuit states: “These cameras captured footage of behaviour consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement officers, who, believing they can operate with complete impunity, engage in unprofessional, discourteous, racially biased, dangerous and sometimes deadly abuses of authority.”
Mr Nazario also accused the officers of threatening to destroy his military career by charging him with multiple crimes if he complained about their conduct.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mr Nazario’s attorney said his client graduated from Virginia State University and was commissioned out of the school’s ROTC programme.
“He’s an officer in the United States armed forces,” Jonathan Arthur said. “These guys decide to do this to him ... He’s definitely not doing too well.”