NBC10.com - Lorenzo Langford
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford speaks out about a video showing several police officers beating a suspect.
The Mayor of Atlantic City spoke publicly on a video allegedly showing a police officer releasing his K-9 on a man who was already face down on the ground.
"The video was horrifying," said Mayor Lorenzo Langford. “I want as many eyes and ears looking at this situation because it’s important to the public to believe that we are doing all that we can, must and should do to make sure we get to the bottom of this.”
Last month, Langford asked both the State Attorney General's Office as well as the United States Department of Justice to help investigate the incident.
On June 5, 20-year-old David Castellani Jr. exchanged words with three Atlantic City police officers after he was kicked out of a casino for being underage.
A surveillance camera from the casino shows the officers force Castellani Jr. to the ground. It then shows two other officers get involved moments later.
“It was horrifying,” said David Castellani, the man’s father. “Absolutely horrifying.”
But Castellani says the most horrifying part of the recording comes the moment when a K-9 officer, identified as Sterling Wheaten, arrives.
“With his hands behind his back, the K-9 truck pulls up and without any assessment of the situation, the K-9 officer releases the dog on my son’s neck,” Castellani said.
In the surveillance video, Officer Wheaten appears to release the dog on Castellani Jr. twice. Photos after the incident show wounds to the back of Castellani Jr.’s head and neck.
“As bad as it was, and it was horrible, I thank God that at least he was alive and it didn’t get the front of his neck,” said Castellani Jr.’s mother Terri.
While Castellani Jr. is alive, his parents tell NBC10 that doctors say their son may never be the same.
“They don’t anticipate that it will go away because that was from the lacerations and the doctors explained that some of the nerves get severed on the scalp,” Castellani said.
Castellani Jr.’s parents tell NBC10 police charged their son with aggravated assault and accused him of punching an officer and punching the police dog.
“I’m an attorney in the community and I’ve represented police officers before,” Castellani said.
“Never in my life have I seen anything like this before, let alone with my own son.”
Castellani is suing the officers involved, accusing them of excessive force. But it’s not the first accusation of excessive force against Officer Wheaten.
NBC10 obtained an internal police report which shows that Atlantic City Police internal affairs investigated Wheaten 15 times between 2008 and 2010 for allegations of misconduct, some of those allegations being excessive force. Each time however, the department concluded Wheaten did nothing wrong or that there was not enough evidence to clearly prove he did something wrong. Wheaten’s attorney told us she was confident internal affairs performed complete and thorough investigations.
Mayor Langford revealed he also watched the video and found it "quite disturbing." Mayor Langford also said he wants the State's Attorney General's Office and the Department of Justice to get involved.
"In an effort to ensure transparency and to maximize the level of scrutiny regarding the investigation of this matter, I am asking the State Attorney General’s Office to oversee this investigative effort," Langford wrote in a released statement. "Moreover, I will be making a formal request to the United States Department of Justice to monitor the investigation regarding this case."
NBC10 reached out to the Atlantic City Police Department for comment and a copy of the police report of the incident. The Department declined to release any information about the incident or the officers involved.
Atlantic City Police Chief Ernest Jubilee confirmed however that internal affairs and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office are both investigating. Chief Jubilee also claimed he viewed the recording and “saw no reason to suspend or remove the officers from their regular duties.” Finally, the chief stated that because of the investigation, the officers involved cannot comment.
A man who claims he was one of the victims of Wheaten’s excessive force, came forward after he viewed NBC10’s initial report on Friday.
“I was horrified when I saw the video that you guys ran the story on,” said Vernon Kelley. “I’m not surprised. I warned everybody back in 2010 about this officer.”
Kelley claims Officer Wheaten and another officer roughed him up in an elevator back in 2010 after he got in an altercation with a casino bouncer.
“They hit me in my face, in my head and in my neck,” Kelley said. “It was the entire length of the elevator ride down. It seemed like forever. “
Kelley filed a lawsuit in federal court in October of 2011. The case was settled outside of court this past June. NBC10 discovered four other lawsuits filed against Officer Wheaten, dating back to 2010, claiming Officer Wheaten used excessive force while on duty.
While Kelley’s case has been settled, the other four lawsuits are still pending. Wheaten’s attorney told NBC10 she can’t comment on the cases since they’re still under litigation.
Kelley tells NBC10 there was never an admission of wrongdoing on anyone’s part in the settlement of his case. Kelley says he was later charged after he filed a complaint against the officers but that those charges were eventually dismissed.