PLEASANTVILLE — Atlantic County Sheriff Frank X. Balles said a video recording of six Atlantic City police officers beating a 20-year-old Linwood man over the summer was “disturbing.”
Balles, a state Senate candidate, said at a Press of Atlantic City editorial board meeting Thursday he only saw a short, televised version of the recording, and not what happened before or after, “but it wasn’t pretty.”
The full recording from a surveillance video at Tropicana Casino and Resort, shortly after David Connor Castellani was ejected from the casino, shows him seeming to yell at police officers. They then run up and tackle him about 3:15 a.m. June 15, using a clubs, knees and, later, a police dog on him before he is handcuffed.
The video was released as part of Castellani’s civil suit.
“It would be very interesting to see how that investigation’s going to go, and I would expect that our (Atlantic County) Prosecutor Jim McClain, who’s a stand-up guy, will head that investigation and would make sure justice is served,” Balles said.
Asked what he would do, he said, “If they were my guys and I saw that tape? Again, it’s disturbing. It’s disturbing.”
Balles, who is running for Senate in the 2nd Legislative District, spoke at the editorial board meeting with Republican Assemblymen and running mates John Amodeo and Chris Brown.
In the Nov. 5 election, the three are taking on Democratic state Sen. Jim Whelan and his Assembly running mates, Nick Russo and Vince Mazzeo, the respective mayors of Longport and Northfield. The district covers most of Atlantic County.
Balles also strongly supported re-introducing the death penalty in New Jersey, one of 18 states without one. If elected, he promised to push for it. Balles, a career law enforcement officer, said, “I’ve seen the carnage, for 28 years.”
Capital punishment was banned in 2007. Subsequently, then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine commuted the sentences of those awaiting execution to life in prison.
“We need an death penalty that has teeth,” Balles added. The previous death penalty included mandatory appeals he said were “very cumbersome and very expensive.”
Balles was confident that modern technology, including DNA testing, would prevent innocent people from being sentenced to death. He said it should be reserved for people such as Brian Wakefield, who murdered a Pleasantville couple in January 2001 before setting their home on fire, or for incidents such as the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., mass shootings.
Balles said a working death penalty would be a deterrent to other criminals.
Amodeo said he hadn’t thought much about it but said he probably would support an appropriately written death penalty law. He said, “You can’t implement a death penalty and just have people going through appeals for 15 to 20 years.”
Brown agreed the death penalty is warranted in limited circumstances.
The three had different opinions on gay marriage. Balles and Amodeo both said they support the state’s civil unions, but as Catholics, they do not support gay marriage itself. Both agreed with Gov. Chris Christie, who has said the issue should be on the ballot.
Brown said he supports gay marriage and would vote to override an earlier Christie veto, if the matter came to the Assembly.
He said he previously voted against gay marriage in the Legislature, in part based on the liberal reputation of the state Supreme Court and the fact it ruled in 2006 that civil unions were not discriminatory.
Brown said he changed his mind following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this year that civil unions were discriminatory and after seeing complaints that they do not provide the same benefits and protections as marriage.
He also does not support a referendum. Brown said, “I think whenever you’re dealing with a civil right, it is the obligation of the Legislature to address that issue, and if the Legislature is unable to, then of course it falls within the courts.”
Brown recognized other Republicans might disagree. “The Republican Party is and should be a big tent, and we need to have diverse ideas and diverse opinions, and I represent some of those opinions.”
The Democratic candidates in the 2nd District have been invited to an editorial board meeting before the November election.
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