A video of a Temple student being violently beaten by Atlantic City police and mauled by a K-9 dog this past summer has gained national attention after the student filed suit against the officers in federal court.
David Castellani, a junior media studies major, suffered gruesome injuries as a result of the incident, including a crushed spinal column, dog bites to his face and neck and numbness to the skull. Castellani needed more than 200 stitches, according to the complaint filed in federal court.
Castellani, a 20-year-old Linwood, N.J., native, was arrested the morning of June 15 after being kicked out of the Tropicana Casino & Resort for being underage. According to the complaint, Castellani was drunk at the time of the incident. The complaint states that Castellani asked the officers for help finding his friends when they began taunting and mocking him before ordering him to cross the street.
Castellani declined to speak to The Temple News about the incident, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.
Castellani’s lawyer in the civil suit, Jennifer Bonjean, called the incident an “egregious abuse” of police power. Bonjean said that prior to start of the video, the police officers had patted down Castellani and were “taunting” him after he crossed the street.
“They were fully aware that he was not armed and not a danger to anyone,” Bonjean said. “If you don’t like what someone is saying to you, even if you’re a cop, doesn’t mean you can beat the crap out of him and sick a dog on him.”
Representatives from the Atlantic City Police Department did not return multiple phone calls from The Temple News requesting comment. Atlantic City Police Chief Ernest Jubilee has publicly stated that the department is conducting an internal investigation into the matter, though the chief is standing by his officers actions until the investigation is concluded.
The video, surveillance footage from the casino obtained via a subpoena, shows Castellani standing by himself around 3 a.m. before speaking with a group of officers.
Castellani then crossed the street before beginning to shout and gesture at the officers. Castellani continued for around a minute to make aggressive gestures at the officers while walking away. He then turned around hurried back in the direction of the officers, who swarmed over and tackled him to the ground.
One officer put Castellani in a headlock while the others hit him with nightsticks and kicked him. About a minute later, a K-9 unit SUV pulled onto the scene, and a dog is released upon Castellani, biting him multiple times in the head and neck.
Castellani filed suit against six of the officers, naming officers Sterling Wheaten and Darin Lorady specifically. According to a report by the Press of Atlantic City, Officer Wheaten, the K-9 officer who responded to the incident, received 21 complaints between 2008 and 2011. He has been named in six excessive force lawsuits, one of which was dismissed and another was settled out of court, the Press of Atlantic City reports.
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford has called upon the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice to review the incident.
Jerry Ratcliffe, chairman of Temple’s criminal justice department, declined on behalf of his department to analyze the actions of the officers in the video.
“That will be for the court to decide, not us,” Ratcliffe said in an email. John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.