First, we should stipulate that we don't yet know exactly what happened on June 15 when 20-year-old David Connor Castellani was subdued by police outside Tropicana Casino and Resort.
We know that Castellani was removed from the Boogie Nights nightclub - his lawsuit says it was because of underage drinking - and ended up in the hospital, where his injuries, which included dog bites on his head and neck, required 200 stitches.
And we know that a video of the altercation, taken by Tropicana security cameras, is chilling. It begins with Castellani apparently shouting at police. Castellani is unarmed and appears to pose no physical threat. But suddenly, several officers cross the street and force Castellani to the ground, punching and kneeing him. While he is already on the pavement with officers on top of him, a K9 officer arrives on the scene, and Castellani is attacked by a police dog.
It is certainly not surprising that the video has drawn national attention - and negative publicity - to the resort and has renewed calls for more oversight of the city Police Department.
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford said he will ask the state Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the investigation. Councilman Steve Moore said the video shows that the city's K-9 unit, which was disbanded in 2009 and reinstated about a year later, needs closer supervision.
The local chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights group, is using the video to seek changes in department policy and sensitivity training for officers.
The incident also raises the issue of why, more than a year after it was approved by City Council, the city has yet to implement a civilian review board. Originally conceived as an 11-member volunteer board, the review board grew to 20 members in the final ordinance, with a complementary panel made up of council members. The civilian board would have no authority to discipline officers.
A civilian review board is not a panacea. But it could go a long way toward assuring residents that complaints of police brutality will get a fair hearing. If a 20-member board is too cumbersome to implement, council needs to revisit this ordinance and find something workable.
Officers too should welcome such a review board, which would add credibility to the outcome of internal investigations and help build public confidence in the Police Department by ensuring that complaints aren't glossed over. When the ordinance to create the board was introduced, David Davidson Jr., who was then president of the local PBA, said his union supported the idea: "We want to show we can function with a high level of transparency and we have nothing to hide."
That's the attitude a properly run police force should have and the attitude residents should expect and demand - especially in light of what appears to be a brutal and unnecessary use of force on Castellani.