Did the Atlantic City Police Department create an environment that allowed officers to go rogue without repercussions?
That is now for a jury to decide after closings in the monthlong civil trial against Officers Anthony Abrams and William Moore and now-retired K-9 Officer John Devlin in Camden Federal Court.
Steven Stadler is suing the officers and the city for his March 13, 2013, arrest that ended with his face bruised and bloody and dog bites on his thigh.
Both sides agree that Stadler was burglarizing a car wash off Albany Avenue when Abrams — who was off-duty in plain clothes and his personal vehicle — came across the scene and decided to act.
The picture each side painted of what happened next differed greatly.
Stadler kept “embellishing” his story in subsequent complaints against the officers, alleged their attorney, Tracy Riley.
But it was the officers who created a story back at the station to try to explain Stadler’s injuries, contended his attorney, Jennifer Bonjean.
Stadler was a crack addict who had at least six Percocets over the course of the day, along with lots of alcohol and $100 worth of crack that he split with a friend, according to his own testimony, Riley said.
“When an individual is high, they don’t always make the best decisions,” she said.
“You are not here to decide that Mr. Stadler is a model citizen,” Bonjean said. “Everyone gets the benefit of our Constitution.”
In pointing to Stadler’s drug and criminal history, “the underlying meaning is his rights don’t matter because he doesn’t matter,” Bonjean said.
“This is about Fourth Amendment principles, a bedrock principle,” she told the six men and two women on the jury.
Stadler claimed he had already surrendered to uniform police Moore when Abrams punched and kicked him. Then, Devlin arrived and released his dog, Clancy, as the suspect was already facedown and unconscious.
But the defense argued that it was Stadler who fought the police and had to be subdued.
“I resisted. I pulled away. I tried to run,” Stadler said when he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and a third-degree burglary charge, Riley pointed out.
Stadler said he had no other choice in taking the plea, and that he admits only to the burglary.
“So you lied to get what you wanted?” Riley reminded the jurors that she asked him during cross-examination.
“If that — yeah, I guess so,” was his answer.
Abrams claimed Stadler had a pry bar, but that was not seen in any pictures from the scene nor listed in evidence, Bonjean said.
She showed a close-up of a photo of Abrams taken that night, asking the jurors if they saw any injuries from Stadler hitting him. She compared it to Stadler’s mugshot with his left eye bruised and swollen shut and contusions on his head.
Bonjean had three of the officers with the most Internal Affairs complaints against them testify during the trial in an attempt to show the department did nothing to rein in such officers.
None of them was involved in Stadler’s arrest, city attorney Morrison Kent Fairbairn pointed out in his closing, calling it a distraction.
“That’s kind of the point,” Bonjean countered in her closing. “Letting these officers run amok they see as a distraction.”
The jury left Tuesday without reaching a verdict. Deliberations will continue Wednesday.