Atlantic City to pay $3 million in 2013 excessive force case caught on casino video

Atlantic City will pay $3 million to a Linwood man allegedly beaten by police outside the Tropicana Casino and Resort in 2013.
The settlement was approved by City Council at Wednesday’s meeting.
David Connor Castellani, then 20, was drunk and underage when he was escorted out of the Tropicana by officers early June 15, 2013.
But it was the silent video of what happened next that garnered national attention.
Castellani — who later would tell a judge, “I wish I walked away” — is shown yelling something to the officers as he walks away, then stops several times, and eventually starts walking back toward them when he is tackled by three of the officers, and then others join in.
While Castellani is on the ground with five officers on him, a K-9 officer arrives and adds his dog in.
Castellani required more than 200 stitches to close wounds to his head from the dog’s bites.
“He still struggles with the effects of this,” said Jennifer Bonjean, who represented Castellani in the civil case.
In July, U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle granted summary judgement clearing the five officers as to the allegations malicious prosecution and infliction of emotional distress, but kept open the claims of excessive force, due process and civil conspiracy. Only K-9 Officer Sterling Wheaten was denied any summary judgement in the case.
On Aug. 23, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio signed an order terminating the action within 60 days as the result of a settlement.
In addition to the $3 million, the department must also file its K-9 training certifications with the court for a year, Bonjean said.
“This ends a matter that received national attention and painted our great Police Department and the city in a negative light,” said Council President Marty Small, who said insurance covered the settlement. “This isn’t a reflection of the men and women in blue, it’s a reflection of individual acts and those individuals put our city and taxpayers in harm’s way.”
Police Chief Henry White — who was a deputy chief at the time — said he could not comment because he has not yet seen the settlement.
Neither the department’s attorney nor police chief returned calls seeking comment.
In January 2015, a grand jury cleared the officers, but indicted Castellani on charges of aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and inflicting harm on a law enforcement animal.
Castellani was eventually accepted into pretrial intervention against the wishes of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, in a ruling by since-retired Judge Michael Donio, who accused both sides of acting in their own interests of the then-ongoing civil litigation.
PTI allows someone to avoid prosecution in a case as long as they complete a program that usually lasts one to three years. Castellani is set to complete his this month. He is now pursuing a law degree.
“He’s happy that it has come to a conclusion and that it can be put behind him,” Bonjean told BreakingAC.
But she said she hopes that the Atlantic City Police Department doesn’t close this chapter just yet.
“There’s never been an Internal Affairs investigation into this,” she said. “Hopefully, they will reopen an investigation and do an appropriate review and they will discipline (Wheaten) or take some type of action in response.”
In 2013, a jury awarded a man a half-million dollars after finding that Wheaten used excessive force in a 2008 arrest and that the city did not properly train him. The jury cleared four other officers named in that suit.
There two other outstanding lawsuits involving Wheaten as well.

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