A federal judge is raising questions about the Atlantic City police department's handling of brutality complaints against its officers.
U.S. District Judge Joel Schneider in Camden is presiding over a 2010 excessive-force lawsuit against two Atlantic City officers who have faced nearly 80 complaints between them. None has been upheld by Internal Affairs.
The city previously provided summaries of the cases against the officers, Sgt. Frank Timek and Officer Sterling Wheaten. But The Press of Atlantic City reports Schneider has ordered the city to turn over the full Internal Affairs reports.
The judge says those reports are needed to determine if the city has been, as alleged, "deliberately indifferent to the violent propensities of its police officers.''
The city police union says it's wrong to judge the officers by the number of complaints received for internal review.
Julius Adams is the latest person to file a lawsuit against the department, claiming he was the victim of excessive force from Sgt. Timek and another officer.
"I was in handcuffs in a puddle of blood," Adams said. "They tried to kill me. They literally tried to kill me."
Adams says Timek and another officer approached him and two friends early last year after they finished gambling around midnight. Adams claimed they walked several blocks from the casino before Timek stopped them and told them they were near a drug neighborhood.
"They told us, 'Up against the wall!'" Adams said. "I said, 'Up against the wall for what?' They said, 'Oh you got a smart mouth huh? I said up against the wall!'"
According to Adams, Timek let his friends go but released his police dog on him.
"He ran straight to me on my leg and I started screaming," Adams said.
Adams says the officers started beating him and then released a second police dog.
"I got two dogs biting me, playing tug o' war on my leg and they were still hitting me and kicking me," Adams said. "And every time they hit me they said, 'Shut up n*****! Shut up n*****!"
Adams says he lost some use of his leg, is in constant pain and still has nightmares.
"I want to see those cops get justice done by getting fired!" Adams said.
Officer Wheaten is also the subject of numerous brutality allegations. In only five years on the force, Wheaten has already been named in half a dozen lawsuits. One suit came from Janine Costantino, who claims Wheaten assaulted her at Caesar’s Casino last year.
“I couldn’t imagine this was actually happening,” she said.
Costantino says Wheaten arrested her brother after he got into an altercation with another patron.
“Wheaten had my brother in a headlock and his arms were limp and his legs were weak,” Costantino said. “I screamed out that it was police brutality and that I was videotaping it all.”
That’s when she claims Wheaten turned on her.
“He was running at me and he says, ‘Give me the phone you b**h,’” she said. “He grabbed my bun and he was slamming my forehead into the floor.”
Wheaten then arrested Costantino but court records show the charges against her were later dropped. Costantino says she’ll never forget what one officer told her the night of the incident.
“He’s like, ‘Oh, that’s your first mistake,’” she said. “You shouldn’t be videotaping police officers.”
Wheaten already made headlines earlier this year after video surfaced allegedly showing him releasing his K-9 on a man who was already face down on the ground. Lorenzo Langford, who was the Atlantic City mayor at that time, called the video “horrifying.”
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. She did not respond to the latest lawsuit however.
“I get calls every day from people who have been brutalized and terrorized by the Atlantic City Police Department,” said Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney who is representing Costantino and others who are suing Wheaten. “It’s overwhelming the pattern that I’ve been able to establish just with these limited cases I’ve been involved in. I think the prosecutor’s office is turning a blind eye to many of these allegations. They have to be seeing the same police officers that we’re seeing.”
The Atlantic City Police Department is also at the center of another lawsuit from one of their own. Sergeant Mark Benjamin sued the department after claiming he received death threats for reporting police misconduct to his superiors.
The various allegations against the Department have caught national attention. The Reverend Al Sharpton visited Atlantic City to attend a rally speaking out on the department’s alleged police brutality.