CAMDEN — Defense attorneys for three Atlantic City police officers involved in a civil trial for alleged excessive force called their first witness Thursday morning to explain the department’s training and policies on how and when to use force.
The case surrounds the March 2013 arrest of Atlantic County resident Steven Stadler after he burglarized a car wash on Albany Avenue in Atlantic City.
Lt. Edward Leon, former commander of training at the Atlantic City Police Department, testified there is no “cookie-cutter” response to dealing with a person who is resisting arrest, and the level of resistance the suspect gives the officer could determine how much force the officer uses.
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“You want to be reasonable (in the amount of force used), but you also want to make the encounter short,” Leon said of officers dealing with someone resisting arrest. “You don’t want to get into a boxing match.”
The defense called Leon to testify because Stadler claimed the three officers, Glenn Abrams Jr., John Devlin and William Moore, illegally beat and released a dog on him when he was arrested.
The officers previously testified arresting Stadler was a “violent struggle.” Their attorney, Tracey Riley, said the use of force was acceptable in this case because Stadler was resisting arrest.
Stadler pleaded guilty to one count of resisting arrest and one count of burglary.
Leon said Atlantic City police officers are trained twice a year on use of force policies. They are taught using too little force can be worse than using too much force, he testified.
“If the officer is overpowered, his tools or weapons can be used against him,” Leon testified. “The officer does not have to wait to be assaulted to use force.”
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The decision on whether the three officers used excessive force will come down to an eight-member jury, all of whom have listened to four weeks of testimony in front of Judge Robert Kugler in U.S. District Court in Camden.
The jury will have to decide whether they believe Stadler, who testified he was complying with the officers and then was assaulted, or the officers, who testified they got one handcuff on Stadler before he started resisting arrest.
The officers also testified Stadler was “flailing” his arms with one handcuff on, making it a weapon.
Leon testified if the suspect has a weapon, like handcuffs, the officers are legally allowed to tackle that person to the ground and use force to make the arrest.
The trial was stopped early Thursday because an attorney for Atlantic City had a family emergency and had to leave.
The trial will resume Monday. The defense will call Dennis McSweeny, who has been a certified K-9 trainer for several decades and is a former Atlantic City police officer, and Bryon Marshall, former chief of police in Burlington City and an expert on the use of force.