Caught on cam: man on the ground, beaten and attacked by K9 unit
The Atlantic City, New Jersey Police Department is being sued after surveillance cameras catch officers beating a man who was on the ground and surrendering to police.
On June 15th, 20-year-old David Connor Castellani was kicked out of the Tropicana Casino for being underage. Castellani is surrounded by at least five police officers with his hands behind his back. He then empties his pockets and later walks away.
As he crosses the street, Castellani yells something at the police. One minute later, police are still staying on their side of the street. 40 seconds later, Conner said something else and the officers couldn't hold back.
Four officers wrestled him to the ground and for the next 45 seconds, they knee and strike him with batons as they try and handcuff him. That's when a fifth officer arrives to assist the others.
Castellani says he wasn't fighting back.
"I was just basically rolling up in a ball I just I didn't, I said I wasn't resisting, I told them that and they continued to beat me."
Castellani is on his stomach with one hand almost behind his back when a canine officer arrives and immediately sets his dog on the man.
"When the dog actually chomped on the back of my neck, I was also receiving blows to the back of my head with a fist."
Castellani was arrested for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and aggravated assault on an officer and canine.
He was taken to the hospital where he required 200 stitched to close wounds and had multiple dog bites on his head and neck.
His parents couldn't believe what they saw when they first saw him.
"I walked in the room and he was shackled to the bed by his feet, Theresa Castellani said. "He looked like he was in shock he was bleeding and oozing everywhere.
"To see the shock in his eyes was devastating. It was the worst thing a parent could possibly experience." David Castellani said.
But when Theresa and David saw the surveillance tape of the incident, they were in disbelief.
"I was numb I actually went home and got sick," Therese recalled. "It was really really terrible."
David said he couldn't see any justification for the officer's actions and said it was "like a scene out of a movie."
The Castellani's are suing the ACPD and the city, saying they want charges dropped and the officers disciplined.
"I think it was of the most egregious examples of excessive force police brutality that I have ever seen," family attorney Jennifer Bonjean said. "You can't just bum rush a kid who has said something offensive to you. It's an abuse of your police authority."
This isn't the canine officer's first problem. Court records indicate 15 previous complaints related to "excessinve force or assault". The officer, Sterling Wheaton, was exonerated in all of them but has five additional suits pending against him.
ACPD would not make Wheaton or any other officers involved available to CNN. ACPD Chief Ernest Jubilee says it's too early for judgement.
"All I can tell you there is an internal investigation and when its over I'll be able to speak about the results."
The chief says he's standing by the officers, pending the conclusion of the investigation.
The Mayor of Atlantic City called the video 'disturbing' and asked the state's attorney general to oversee the investigation.
CNN showed the video to former police officer and law enforcement expert Lou Palumbo who says the use of force was appropriate.
"I have to say that the amount of force that I believe they used here was appropriate yes."
But John Shane, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice says the use of the dog was unncessary and potentially deadly.
"I don't know of any training that allows police officers to launch the dog onto somebody's neck, which is right where the dog went."
The family says there is no justification for the officer's action that night.
Connor will have scars from his experience but says the event won't shake his trust in law enforcement.
"I'm not saying all cops are bad. The majority of them are good people who are here to protect us, but there's just some that I guess have to be looked out for."