A Linwood man seriously injured in an arrest outside the Tropicana Atlantic City in 2013, requiring hundreds of stitches to repair bites by a police dog, has settled an excessive-force lawsuit against Atlantic City for $3 million, his attorney confirmed Sunday.
David Connor Castellani, 20 at the time of the incident, is now in law school, said his attorney Jennifer Bonjean.
“It’s over to the extent it can be over in the system,” said Bonjean, adding the settlement has been approved by the city, the state and an insurance adjuster. “But it’s not as if Connor doesn’t have lasting impacts from it in his personal life to deal with.”
Castellani was indicted in 2015 for allegedly threatening and using force against Officer Darrin Lorady and resisting arrest by several officers outside Tropicana Atlantic City in 2013.
A videotape taken by security cameras at the casino showed Castellani arguing with officers around 3 a.m. June 15, 2013. He walked away from the officers and across the street, where he continued to yell at them. He then walked back toward the officers yelling and pointing, and then was taken down by Lorady, with other officers quickly running toward the scene. K-9 Officer Sterling Wheaten then pulled up and released his police dog.
After the incident, a grand jury cleared the officers of wrongdoing and charged Castellani, who required more than 200 stitches from the police dog’s bites, with aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. He also was indicted on a lesser charge of inflicting harm on a law enforcement animal.
After pleading not guilty, Castellani applied for pretrial intervention, or PTI, which allows defendants without a criminal record to avoid prosecution.
The PTI coordinator accepted him into the program, but the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office would not sign off on it.
Superior Court Judge Michael Donio disagreed with the prosecutor’s decision and allowed Castellani to enter the program anyway.
The Prosecutor’s Office then appealed to the state Appellate Division and ultimately the New Jersey Supreme Court. Last year, the state Supreme Court denied the prosecutor’s request, and Castellani remained in the program.
If Castellani completes the PTI program he will be cleared of all charges against him, according to his attorney.
Castellani’s attorney in that case, Steve Scheffler, has said his participation in the program is not an admission of guilt.
“There is absolutely no admission of guilt because (Connor) did nothing wrong,” he has said.
Bonjean said two other cases she has filed against Atlantic City for excessive use of force by police have also ended, with one settling for $370,000 and one going to trial and the plaintiff receiving $500,000.
All three involve Wheaten, Bonjean said.
“This officer has cost the city a lot of money,” she said. “The city has failed to do its function of policing its own police and disciplining offenders.”
She said she hopes the city looks at the conduct of its Internal Affairs department and does what is needed to hold officers responsible.
“What is it teaching them if nothing comes out of their pockets, they are not disciplined and there is no impact on them?” Bonjean asked.
Bonjean has filed a total of six excessive force lawsuits against the city, she said.
At least eight civil lawsuits filed in the last three years allege Wheaten has abused his power during the course of arrests. Internal affairs documents obtained by an attorney in one of those cases show 21 complaints against Wheaten between 2008 and 2011. None of them was sustained by police after investigations.