NBC10 - Harry Hairston
NBC10's Harry Hairston sits down with an Atlantic City police officer who alleges the department is out of control amid recent videos surfacing that shows questionable force.
An Atlantic City police officer says there are members of his department who are out of control and he's asking the Department of Justice to step in and investigate.
The veteran officer spoke to NBC10 investigative reporter Harry Hairston on the condition that his identity be concealed over concerns he will be retaliated against.
The officer says after seeing video of the alleged use of excessive force against David Conner Castellani, he had to come forward about a systemic problem of "corrupt and criminal" officers "running rouge" within the Atlantic City Police Department.
"I honestly feel as though in the Atlantic City Police Department, there is an undercurrent of discrimination. There's an undercurrent of thugism," the veteran officer said.
In the surveillance video first obtained and brought to light by NBC10, Castellani is seen being punched and brought to the ground by five police officers outside an Atlantic City casino following a verbal argument with police on June 15. The 20-year-old had been booted from the casino moments before the incident because he is underage.
Then, the video shows a K9 officer, identified by officials as Officer Sterling Wheaton, apparently releasing the German Shepherd on the Castellani as he laid handcuffed, face-down in the street. The man suffered several injuries to his head and neck including possible nerve damage and has filed a lawsuit against the department.
"The sheer number of officers should have declined the use of a dog at that time," the officer said. "Some of them wouldn't even do this if they didn't have a gun or badge. Cowards."
Ofc. Wheaton has a long history of excessive force complaints brought against him. Internal police documents obtained by NBC10 show police received 15 complaints against Ofc. Wheaton during his first two years on the force. In each instance, Ofc. Wheaton was cleared of any wrongdoing.
He is also named in a federal lawsuit, along with his partner, for allegedly knocking a man to the ground and then beating him. That case is on-going.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and Atlantic City Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit are now investigating the incident involving Castellani, but the veteran anonymous officer says based on the past, he's not expecting any officer to be removed from their job.
"I would say that's par for the course. They believe officers that act in that fashion are considered good officers," the officer said.
Ofc. Wheaton's attorney says his client has done nothing wrong.
The veteran officer said there are many good men and women who work on the force, but that the small few are hurting the department. He's now calling for the Department of Justice to come in and clean up the department.
"If this interview can go as viral as the K9 apprehension video and it ever reaches anybody at the Justice Department, I would implore them; I need your help. We need your help. The good cops of Atlantic City need your help," he said.
A ranking officer for the Atlantic City Police Department would not comment on the story's specifics, but told Hairston that the department has internal steps for officers to seek help and voice complaints. The official also said the officer was not authorized to speak with NBC10.
The veteran officer tells NBC10 that he tried voicing his concerns through the department, but that they went unanswered.