Two Atlantic City officers cleared, city liable in excessive force case
Jury orders Atlantic City to pay $300,500
The Atlantic City Police Department’s policies created an environment for violence by its officers, a Federal civil jury found in a unanimous decision Thursday.
The city was ordered to pay $300,500 for its failures. But the jurors cleared two of the three officers involved in the 2013 arrest that sparked the lawsuit.
Atlantic City Officers Anthony Abrams and William Moore did nothing in the arrest that left Steven Stadler badly bruised, the jurors found.
However, K-9 Officer John Devlin — who is now retired — did use excessive force when he released his partner, Clancy, as the suspect was taken into custody.
Stadler suffered nerve damage from the bites, according to the suit.
“Obviously, we’re happy with the verdict,” Stadler’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, told BreakingAC.
Bonjean saw the verdict as an indictment of a department she has helped several clients sue.
“It sent a message to the city,” she said. “I would like them to have found Abrams responsible. But I understood what they were saying: The cops did what they were trained to do.”
Bonjean had three of the officers with the most Internal Affairs complaints against them testify in the trial. None of them was involved int eh March 13, 2013, incident, but instead showed that the department did nothing to punish such officers or correct their behavior.
One of them, Sterling Wheaten, repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment, which protects a witness against self-incrimination.
“I’ve never heard of a department where officers who plead the fifth keep their jobs,” Bonjean told BreakingAC the day before he testified. “At the end of the day, when you plead the fifth, it’s because you think you’re subject to prosecution for what you’ve done and you’re in fear of being prosecuted.”
Federal civil suit will put Atlantic City Police Department on trial
Abrams was off-duty and on his way to the gym when he saw Stadler trying to break into the lockbox of a car wash on Albany Avenue. Stadler ran when confronted by Abrams.
Abrams said he identified himself as a police officer; Stadler said he didn’t.
Stadler claimed Abrams beat him after he surrendered to Moore, who was in uniform and arrived at the scene in a patrol car. Moore also used excessive force, according to the claims.
But the jurors unanimously cleared Abrams and found Stadler was not liable by a vote of 7-1.
Devlin, who responded to the call of a suspect resisting arrest, was accused of releasing his dog on a facedown Stadler who was going in and out of consciousness.
The jurors unanimously agreed that the dog was an excessive use of force. Devlin was not ordered to pay anything.