Cleared Atlantic City officer gets $323K in backpay
An Atlantic City officer cleared in an excessive force case last year will get more than $323,000 in backpay.
Sterling Wheaten, 39, was suspended without pay since a federal indictment in 2018, five years after he was involved in an alleged excessive-force case whose video went viral.
Connor Castellani needed 200 stitches to close up the wounds caused by Wheaten’s K-9 partner during an altercation outside the Tropicana Atlantic City in 2013. The city paid a $3 million settlement in the case four years later.
Wheaten and the five other officers involved in the arrest were cleared by a grand jury in Superior Court.
But five years later, a federal indictment accused only Wheaten of violating Castellani’s rights and falsifying his report.
Jurors took less than four hours to acquit him of those charges last February.
Attorney Lou Barbone then fought for more than four years of backpay his client missed.
City Council approved a $323,631.04 settlement at its Jan. 18 meeting, and the state signed off on it last week. An additional $50,000 will be paid for attorney’s fees.
“We are most pleased to have finally achieved professional vindication at trial and now reimbursement for the years lost by a prosecution that never should have been brought,” Barbone told BreakingAC.
Castellani was 20 years old when he was kicked out of the Tropicana on June 15, 2013.
That’s where video from outside the casino came in, showing the Linwood man having words with the officers. Wheaten was not yet on scene.
At one point, he is taken to the ground. Wheaten pulls up with his dog.
Castellani was indicted on charges of aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest in the case. He was allowed to enter into pretrial intervention, which he completed.
He is now an attorney.
Wheaten is currently working full-time in the Police Department’s Support Services Bureau. The settlement does not affect his assignment, city spokesman Andrew Kramer said.
But when asked if Wheaten would try to get moved make to the street, Barbone said he did not know but would guess that he would.