Society

Atlantic City Police Department Under Intense Scrutiny For Beating Civilians, Failing To Punish Officers

| by Jonathan Wolfe

The Atlantic City, New Jersey police department continues to draw criticism nationwide as an ever-increasing number of citizens file police brutality lawsuits against the department.

A number of citizens attended a city council meeting in October to voice their concern over the lack of retributive action against officers repeatedly accused of using excessive force on the job.

“Our whole country has seen our police officers beat someone in Atlantic City, near a casino,” said Steve Young, president of the Atlantic City chapter of the National Action Network. “What does that show if we don’t do anything about it?”

The incident Young is referring to is the beating of college student David Castellani. In June, Castellani was kicked out of a casino for being under aged. Surveillance video shows Atlantic City officers talking to him for a moment before letting him walk. Moments later, Castellani and Atlantic City officers are seen yelling at each other from across the street.

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The officers then pursued and tackled Castellani and beat him relentlessly long after he was restrained on the ground. To top it off, an additional officer then pulled onto the scene and unleashed a K9 unit dog on the subdued Castellani. He received over 200 stitches after the beating.

The officer who arrived late and released his K9 unit dog on Castellani is Officer Sterling Wheaten. Wheaten is at the center of the criticism against Atlantic City PD, and rightfully so. In just five years on the job, Wheaten has had an incredible 21 complaints alleging excessive force filed against him. He has also been name in half a dozen lawsuits from angry civilians.

The latest lawsuit filed against him comes from Janine Costantino. Costantino claims Wheaten assaulted her last year after an altercation involving her brother outside of a casino.

“Wheaten had my brother in a headlock and his arms were limp and his legs were weak,” she said. “I screamed out that it was police brutality and that I was videotaping it all.”

Then, Costantino says Wheaten released her brother and ran after her.

“He was running at me and he says, ‘Give me the phone you b**h,’” she said. “He grabbed my bun and he was slamming my forehead into the floor.”

Costantino was arrested, but all charges against her were later dropped. An internal investigation was launched by Atlantic City police to investigate the incident. Wheaten was cleared of any wrongdoing.

I wouldn’t give the ACPD’s internal investigations much credibility though. Of the 21 complaints against Wheaten alleging excessive force, the department’s internal investigations have cleared him of any fault every single time. As Atlantic City attorney Jennifer Bonjean points out, this pattern is “statistically not credible.”

“I get calls every day from people who have been brutalized and terrorized by the Atlantic City Police Department,” said Bonjean. “It’s overwhelming the pattern that I’ve been able to establish just with these limited cases I’ve been involved in. I think the prosecutor’s office is turning a blind eye to many of these allegations. They have to be seeing the same police officers that we’re seeing.”

If you want to see a glimpse of the brutality that Bonjean and victims are talking about, check out the graphic video of Castellani’s beating below:

Sources: NBC Philadelphia, Press of Atlantic City, CNN, Policy Mic