ATLANTIC CITY — City Council had a lot of questions for the city’s police chief Wednesday night, after several residents charged that nothing was being done after they made allegations of police brutality.
Before the meeting, the National Action Network of South Jersey held a news conference to discuss the issue. A videotape showing the alleged beating of Connor Castellani, of Linwood, has gained national attention.
Steve Young, the group’s president, called for implementation within 30 days of a long-discussed civilian review board. Council approved the board more than a year ago, but no movement has been made.
“We need to move on (the board) in the correct way,” said Councilman Steve Moore, who attended a news conference on the first floor of City Hall. “We know what the urgency is and we’re moving on it.”
He said that he plans to visit Hartford, Conn., where there is a reportedly successful board.
“We need to get these models,” he said.
Local NAACP President Linda Steele said her group backs NAN, while noting that the city has been safer.
“I don’t think we should take anything away from the fact that crime is down in Atlantic City,” Steele said. “But we cannot allow the Police Department to be the abusers.”
Young, NAN South Jersey’s president, presented a letter to council asking that the officers involved in such cases be immediately relieved of their duties pending the outcome of an investigation, that charges be dismissed against Castellani and that City Council have a special hearing dealing with police conduct in addition to moving quickly on the board.
With the letter, he attached a similar one written by the NAACP in 2007.
Police Chief Ernest Jubilee said he couldn’t give a timeline on how long each investigation takes, because it depends on the case.
But it seems that criminal charges are expedited, while Internal Affairs cases move slowly, Councilman Mo Delgado said.
“You’re playing with people’s lives,” Councilman Marty Small said. “Something has to be done with answers. These are the people who vote us in. I know myself, I feel helpless.”
“We can’t have another year,” Councilman Frank Gilliam said.
The videotape showing the June 15 arrest of Castellani, 20, garnered national attention after his parents released it to the media. The use of a K-9 was brought into question. Bites to Castellani required more than 200 stitches, according to a lawsuit.
Castellani’s father, David, said he had tried to handle the situation privately, telling the police and city that he wanted the charges against his son dropped and for the allegedly problem officers to be disciplined.
“I never heard back,” he said.
That is when he sued and released the tape.
David Castellani, who is an attorney, said he was surprised to see how many Internal Affairs reports had been filed against the K-9 officer, Sterling Wheaten, whom he had represented in a case early in the officer’s career. All of them were found to be unsubstantiated.
Young said it was unfair that the taxpayers pay both the salaries of the officers still working and for the city’s legal defense against the charges.
Those gathered agreed that there are many good officers on the department, and Young called on them “to stand up and do what is right.”
Terrence Jones, of policeabuse.com, said he believes Wheaten should be in jail. At the City Council meeting, he was escorted out by a police officer after a disruption in the back of chambers.
When he was allowed back in, he addressed council, saying an officer sitting in the back was making comments about how Young spoke while he was addressing the council. He indicated he would file a complaint against the officer. It was unclear what the charge would be.
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