Atlantic City police beating caught on camera leads to lawsuit

Liz Cho reports the victim's family has filed a lawsuit
October 8, 2013 2:56:46 PM PDT
The family of a student beaten by police in Atlantic City is now suing the department and the city.

Surveillance video captured the entire June 15 incident.

Connor Castellani, 20, can be seen surrounded by at least five officers after he was kicked out of the Tropicana Casino for being underage, his hands behind his back.

He then emptied his pockets, and minutes later, he walked away. It seemed fairly routine before the situation escalated.

Castellani crossed the street, yelling at the police. About two minutes later, with Castellani still yelling, officers had enough.

Four of them wrestled him to the ground, and for the next 45 seconds, they kneed and struck him with batons as they tried to handcuff him.

"I was just basically rolling up in a ball," Castellani said. "I said I wasn't resisting. I told them that, and they continued to beat me."

The officers managed to get Castellani on his stomach, with one hand almost behind his back. That's when a K-9 officer pulled up, jumped out of the car and immediately set his dog on Castellani.

"When the dog actually chomped on the back of my neck, I was also receiving blows to the back of my head with a fist," he said.

Castellani was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and assault on an officer and a canine.

He needed more than 200 stitches to close up wounds and dog bites on his head and neck.

The department and prosecutor's office are investigating, but the Atlantic City Police Department is sticking by the officers.

Chief Ernest Jubilee says it's too early to pass judgment.

"All I can tell you there is an internal investigation, and when its over I'll be able to speak about the results," he said. "At the conclusion of the investigation, then we'll move forward from there."

Court records show the K-9 officer has been involved had 15 prior complaints related to excessive force or assault, but he was exonerated in all those cases. That officer, Sterling Wheaton, still has five additional suits pending against him.

Former police officer and law enforcement expert Lou Palumbo saw the video and backed the officers.

"I have to say that the amount of force that I believe they used here was appropriate, yes," he said.

But John Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, disagreed, saying that from his perspective, the use of the dog was an unnecessary and potentially deadly use of force.

"I don't know of any training that allows police officers to launch the dog onto somebody's neck, which is right where the dog went," he said.

The mayor of Atlantic City called the video "disturbing" and asked the state's attorney general to oversee that investigation.