Monday, September 25, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Monday, September 25, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Disturbing K-9 Attack Case Won’t Get Muzzled

(CN) - Police officers videotaped beating and having a K-9 unit maul a subdued 20-year-old cannot stay false arrest and excessive force claims, a federal judge ruled.

David Connor Castellani said in his complaint that the Tropicana Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., had just thrown him out during the wee hours of June 15, 2013, for drinking underage.

On the sidewalk Castellani soon encountered some police officers, who had him pull his pockets inside-out, patted him down, and let him walk away, according to the complaint and backed up by video surveillance posted on CNN.

The video shows Castellani yelling at the officers from across the street.

Castellani says he was asking them to help him find his ride home, but that they allegedly "mocked and ridiculed" him, and a "heated verbal exchange" ensued.

Castellani said he did not threaten the officers, but that they suddenly "bum-rushed the plaintiff, tackled him to the ground, and began to viciously assault" him.

Indeed the video shows four officers run toward Castellani and tackle him to the ground.

"I am not resisting," Castellani allegedly cried out, as the officers punched, kneed, kicked and clubbed him.

A fifth officer arrived, joining the group in kneeing Castellani and striking him with batons as they get him on his stomach to put him in handcuffs.

Castellani said one of his hands was cuffed at this point when Officer Stearling Wheaten arrived in a K-9 unit vehicle.

Wheaten immediately ordered the dog to attack "the completely subdued and helpless" Castellani, according to the complaint.

"The vicious dog mauled the back of plaintiff's neck and head as several of the officers, including defendant Wheaten, continued to punch and kick the plaintiff," the complaint states.

This account matches the video CNN posted.

Castellani said the officers even stepped aside - "several of them laughing and smiling" - to let the dog maul his "lifeless body."

Accompanied by graphic images of Castellani's injuries, CNN reported that the young man needed 200 stitches.

He was nonetheless charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest by using physical force and violence, and assault of a police animal.

Wheaten was allegedly never disciplined for 21 civilian complaints of misconduct filed against him between 2008 and 2011- including 15 for excessive force or assault.

Castellani sued the officers in October, alleging false arrest and excessive force in violation of his Fourth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights; conspiracy; and several tort law violations. He further claims that the violations stemmed from an Atlantic City custom or policy.

The officers asked to stay Castellani's suit pending resolution of his criminal charges.

U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb denied the motion on Jan. 15, tossing aside the defendants' claim that the court would have to "guess" whether a ruling in the civil suit would invalidate a future conviction.

"As there have been no indictments in this matter and there is no indication that the criminal trial against plaintiff will soon commence, any stay would be indefinite and, thus, prejudicial to plaintiff," Bumb wrote.

Castellani's interest in "proceeding expeditiously" also weighs in favor of denying the motion, the unpublished ruling states.

"Finally, this court finds that if plaintiff's allegations are true, they certainly raise issues of significant public concern, and, certainly, this matter has garnered significant attention from the public," Bumb wrote.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.