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K9 Attack Victim Wins Access to Cop Complaints

(CN) - Atlantic City cannot shield information that identifies other individuals who complained about the police officers one man is suing after a K-9 unit mauled him, a federal judge ruled.

David Connor Castellani admits he was drinking underage when the Tropicana Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., threw him out during the wee hours of June 15, 2013.

Many of the allegations from a lawsuit Castellani filed that October match video surveillance posted on CNN. Castellani says some police officers approached him on the sidewalk outside the casino, had him pull his pockets inside-out, patted him down, but let him walk away.

The video shows the 20-year-old Castellani yelling at the officers from across the street.

Though Castellani says he was merely asking for help finding his ride home, he says a "heated verbal exchange" ensued when the officers "mocked and ridiculed" him.

Castellani says he did not threaten the officers, but that they suddenly "bum-rushed" him 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.

Castellani says a fifth officer arrived and joined the group in kneeing him and striking him with batons as they struggled to put him in handcuffs.

One of the hands was allegedly cuffed when Officer Stearling Wheaten arrived in a K-9 unit vehicle.

Castellani says Wheaten ordered the dog to attack him, though he was "completely subdued and helpless."

The officers allegedly watched on, laughing, as "the vicious dog mauled" Castellani.

CNN reported that Castellani needed 200 stitches, showing graphic images of his injuries.

He faced charges that night for disorderly conduct, aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest by using physical force and violence, and assault of a police animal.

Castellani's complaint notes that Wheaten was never disciplined for 21 civilian complaints of misconduct filed against him between 2008 and 2011 - including 15 for excessive force or assault.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb refused to let the officers stay Castellani's suit pending resolution of his criminal charges.

Atlantic City meantime agreed to produce Internal Affairs files related to the officers for a six-year period.

Though the city wanted to redact the identifying information of the witnesses and individuals who filed the complaints, U.S. District Judge Ann Marie Donio shot that motion down on April 9.

"Without access to the names and addresses of the complainants and witnesses, plaintiff would be forced to accept Atlantic City's conclusions in the [Internal Affairs] IA reports without any means or avenues of independently verifying the accuracy of the reports," Donio wrote. "Indeed, the names and addresses of individuals who could verify (or contradict) the accuracy of the IA reports and shed light on the extent of the IA investigations - investigations which plaintiff claims were insufficient or inadequate - clearly are relevant." (Parentheses in original).

Atlantic City does not need a protective order precluding the production of the identifying information, according to the ruling.

"The present litigation involves claims pertaining to alleged police officer misconduct, and '[p]erformance of police duties and investigations of their performance is a matter of great public importance,'" Donio wrote.

When the produces the files in the next 20 days, it can redact only the Social Security numbers, birth dates, and motor vehicle information of the witnesses.

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