ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Security cameras captured a disturbing video of a group of Atlantic City police officers assaulting a man, beating him mercilessly with blunt weapons, and finally siccing an attack dog on his neck and head as he lay helplessly face-down in the street. The shocking abuse seems to be done with the approval of the police chief, who watched the video and saw no reason to discipline his officers.
David Connor Castellani, age 20, was removed from the Tropicana Resort and Casino on June 5th for being a few months under age 21. Footage provided by casino showed what happened outside on Pacific Avenue.
Around 3:10 a.m., video shows Castellani surrounded by at least 4 police officers on the sidewalk outside the casino. With his hands raised in the air, officers searched his pockets. They talked to him briefly, and quickly let him go. The video does not include audio of the conversation.
Castellani then walked a short way down the sidewalk, still within sight of the group of officers. He took out his cell phone and called his friend, whom he was separated from throughout the course of the night. As his parents later explained, his friend had the car and was supposed to provide him with a ride home.
During his brief phone call, officers can be seen in the background having an inaudible discussion and making gestures toward Castellani. One officer balled his fist and thumped it against his open palm. Castellani seems to be unaware that he is being sized up by the gang.
After about a minute-long phone call, he returned to the group of officers, raises his hands, and apparently asked the officers a question. The silent video does not hold details of this conversation, but Castellani’s parents later narrated that their son was asking them if he could return to the car which he arrived in, evidently on casino property. Details of this conversation are not known, but it resulted with Castellani being quickly turned away, with tensions raised on both sides.
Castellani crossed the street and walked away from the officers. He was obviously upset at the interaction. Several times as he walked away, he turned around as if to react to an ongoing conversation being shouted between the officers and himself. He can be seen responding to the officers, raising his hands excitedly. He paused briefly to shout down the street but continuing to walk the other direction, widening the distance between himself and the officers.
After a heated verbal exchange that lasted roughly a minute, the surveillance video shows four officers running into the frame and assaulting Castellani. His hands were clearly visible and held down at his sides. There was no threat posed at all. “They bum-rushed the kid,” his father later described.
The officers quickly spun him around and forced him to the ground. The encounter was brutal from the start. As Castellani defended himself from the gang attack, one officer quickly pulled out an extendable baton and began beating him in the back. Castellani, now face down on the street, was attempting to cover his head while receiving blows from all sides. The assailants pummeled Castellani with their fists, kicked him, and struck him with their knees. One officer knelt on his head.
Castellani curled into the fetal position, desperately trying to shield himself from attacks, as a fifth officer entered the melee. Officers yanked his legs to the extended position just so one of them could beat on the backs of his calves with his club.
A marked police SUV flew into the scene, pulling halfway onto the sidewalk. Castellani remained face down on the ground, one hand is in a cuff, the other visibly extended out in submission, fingers spread, posing no threat. A sixth officer — a K9 unit — jumped out of his SUV with an attack dog and immediately sicced the dog on the helpless man. The beast clamped down on Castellani head and neck, using such force that it actually dragged him several feet across the pavement — by his neck. The German Shepherd thrashed its head while clamped down on its prey, to the delight of its handler, whom joined into the fray by punching Castellani in the head.
The vicious beating continued for a short time behind the concealment of the police SUV.
Watch the raw video footage of the encounter here:
Castellani survived the encounter with extensive wounds and nerve damage. Months later, his head remains numb and doctors say he may never fully recover, thanks to severed nerves in his scalp.
As a result of the incredibly one-sided show of force, Atlantic City Police had the gall to charge the victim with aggravated assault. Police claimed that Castellani punched an officer during the beatdown and choked the police dog as it gnawed on his neck and skull. They also charged him with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
Police Chief Ernest Jubilee seemed to be unconcerned with the level of brutality exhibited by his officer. He told NBC10, “I saw the tape and I saw no reason to suspend or remove the officers from their regular duties.”
While an internal investigation is being conducted, the unnamed assailants will remain at large on the streets continuing to draw paychecks.
The victim’s parents have been extremely disturbed by the treatment of their son and the response of town officials in response to it.
“It horrified me. Absolutely horrified me,” said the victim’s father, also named David Castellani. “Its been a nightmare.”
Terri Castellani, the victim’s mother, described the lacerations on his head as if they “looked like Hamburger Helper.” More than 200 stitches needed to close his wounds. “It was the most horrific sight I’d ever seen,” she said. “I never expected to walk into what I did.”
“I’m an attorney in the community and I’ve represented police officers before. I’ve never in my life seen anything like this, let alone with my own son.” said David Castellani the elder.
“They’re just here standing around looking at him, like he’s a piece of meat,” said his mother, Terri, observing the video of the officers after the beating.
“And what’s even worse is that after the attack and he’s handcuffed, laying there waiting for medical attention, you see some of these guys actually laughing,” the victim’s father said. “The one guy looks like he’s taking a picture of him. I don’t know what he’s doing with the picture. What would be the point of taking a picture of my son laying there, bleeding and injured?” the elder Castellani questioned. “I don’t know if he was trying to text it to his friends, or whatever. That’s just abhorrent.”
View an interview with David and Terri Castellani here:
A history of violence
The names of the officers involved have not been named at this time, although NBC10 discovered the name of the dog handler. After some investigating it was revealed that K-9 Officer Sterling Wheaten has been accused brutality a number of times before.
Between 2008-2010, Officer Wheaten was been investigated by internal affairs for misconduct a total of 15 times — 12 for allegations of excessive force. In every case, the department cleared itself of wrongdoing, exonerated Wheaten of wrongdoing each time or claimed that there was not enough evidence to prove that Wheaten did something wrong.
Three of the cases against Wheaten were uncovered by PressOfAtlanticCity:
- A Burlington County man alleged officers “brutally beat,” restrained and charged him with obstruction of justice at a restaurant in 2008. The suit states the charges were later dismissed.
- A Sewell, Gloucester County, man alleged officers threw him down a flight of stairs and punched him at a nightclub in 2010. He was initially charged with obstructing, resisting arrest and aggravated assault. The suit states all three were dismissed.
- A Phildelphia man man alleged officers “grabbed, punched and restrained” him at a casino in 2011. The suit, filed earlier this month, also claims the city’s policy “routinely deprives citizens of their Constitutional rights, and/or by failing to train, supervise or discipline its officers.”
[Update] Another lawsuit against Officer Sterling Wheaten has been exposed by NBC Philadelphia:
- A Bayonne, NJ, woman alleges that after witnessing Officer Wheaten put her brother in a headlock until his limbs when limp, she began video-recording the incident and shouting about police brutality. She says that Wheaten then turned his anger on her and began slamming her head into the floor demanding she surrender her camera.
The PressOfAtlanticCity also reports that police dogs have been the subject of contention in Atlantic City before. After a string of abuses, in 2009, Mayor Lorenzo Langford banned their use. But they returned to duty about a year later.
Castellani is suing the officers for using excessive force on him. He still faces multiple criminal charges that have not been dropped months later.
View NBC10’s coverage of the attack here:
CNN: An interview with David Castellani and Police Chief Ernest Jubilee:
Police Chief Ernest Jubilee
K-9 Officer Sterling Wheaten
Agency and Officer ID: 0102 0811
Acting Prosecutor James “Jim” McClain
Phone: (609) 909-7800