Former Wildwood police Sgt. David Romeo, convicted of official misconduct for kicking two handcuffed suspects, is scheduled to be resentenced Oct. 10.
The resentencing hearing was scheduled after an appellate panel found that, while Romeo is not entitled to a new trial, the sentencing judge should determine whether Romeo should face the mandatory minimum sentence, five years, without the possibility of parole.
In March 2010, a jury found Romeo guilty of kicking car burglary suspects Gilbert Haege and Louis McCullough as the two men were face down on the ground and handcuffed.
Two months later, Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten sentenced Romeo to five years in state prison. But Romeo wasn’t taken into custody that day in May 2010 and instead was allowed to remain free on bail while he appealed his conviction.
At that hearing, Batten said, “The defendant yet denies culpability, yet displays no remorse.”
Batten sentenced Romeo to five years with the possibility of parole after serving one year, over the protests of prosecutors who wanted no parole option.
The recent state appellate rulings addressed both Romeo’s request for a new trial and the state’s request that his sentence be revisited.
The appellate panel denied Romeo’s request for a new trial but has said the sentencing judge should determine whether the state’s request that Romeo face the mandatory minimum sentence without the possibility of parole should be granted.
Romeo, who was taken into custody Sept. 12, is being held at the Atlantic County jail without bail until his Oct. 10 hearing.
The official misconduct charge stems from a July 24, 2007, incident in which Wildwood police officers were pursuing two men who reportedly were breaking into cars parked near the Boardwalk.
Three other officers, Detectives Walter Cubernot and Edward Ramsey and Patrolman Roger Lillo, were investigating the series of burglaries and eventually arrested Haege and McCullough
In court, Cubernot testified about Haege’s demeanor at the time.
“He was lying face down with his arms behind his back and had handcuffs on,” Cubernot said. “He just laid there. The fight was over. He gave up. I mean, he was done.”
Romeo, who had been promoted to sergeant in April 2007, came to the scene from the police station and, according to Cubernot, Lillo and Ramsey, kicked the two unarmed, handcuffed men.
At trial, Romeo testified that he saw a weapon — a Leatherman multitool — on the ground.
“I saw the knife on the ground. It was a threat. I had to get the knife,” Romeo said.
But the other officers testified the men were not a threat and that no weapon was on the ground. Cubernot said he found the Leatherman in one of the suspect’s pockets and placed it in evidence.
Ramsey said Romeo gave Haege “a sweeping kick … in the face.”
The officers said Romeo acted intentionally and that they were stunned and shocked by what they saw.
During the trial, then-Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Weintraub placed a handcuffed foam mannequin on the floor and had Ramsey kick it to demonstrate to the jury what happened. Jurors took notes, some getting out of their seats to watch as Ramsey played the part of Romeo.
The appellate court found no basis for a new trial, noting it found no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and agreed that the court acted properly when it allowed the jury to hear evidence of prior bad acts by Romeo.
There was no evidence that the jury was not properly instructed, the appeals court found.
“We affirm the defendant’s conviction but remand for resentencing consistent with this opinion,” the decision reads.
Romeo joined the Wildwood Police Department in 1994. His last day with the department was May 21, 2010.
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