CAMDEN — A civil jury found former Atlantic City police Officer John Devlin used excessive force in the 2013 arrest of Steven Stadler and found the Atlantic City Police Department had policies in place that allowed violence by its officers to go unchecked.
Two other officers in the case, Glenn Anthony Abrams Jr. and William Moore, were cleared.
The city must pay Stadler $300,000. Devlin must pay $500.
An attorney for the three officers could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. The city solicitor’s office also did not return a call for comment.
The case was resolved in civil court, not criminal. Devlin is retired from the department.
Jennifer Bonjean, an attorney for Stadler, said she and her client are happy with the verdict even though they did not get everything they wanted.
Bonjean had hoped all the officers would be found liable and wanted the jury to punish Abrams and Devlin.
“(The jury) held the city much more responsible than the individual officers,” Bonjean said. “They feel these officers were not trained properly and that the city had no system in place to check officers with excessive-force histories.”
Bonjean added the case was an uphill climb because Stadler, of Somers Point, pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and burglary after the 2013 incident, in which he tried to burglarize a car wash on Albany Avenue.
The jury had to decide whether they believed Stadler’s version of events or the officers.
During the burglary, Abrams, who was off duty, pulled up in an unmarked SUV and asked Stadler what he was doing.
Stadler responded it was “none of your business,” and when Abrams jumped out of the car, Stadler ran down an adjacent alley across from the Home Run Tavern.
According to the lawsuit, police had been on alert in that area because the car wash had been burglarized before.
Soon after running away, Stadler walked back onto Albany Avenue and was stopped by Moore, who told him to put his hands on the hood of the car.
After putting his hands on the car, Stadler was handcuffed. Stadler claimed Abrams then walked up and punched him in the face.
Devlin then arrived and released a dog on Stadler while he was resisting arrest.
The officers all testified the arrest of Stadler was a “violent struggle” and their actions were justified.
The jury agreed with Abrams and Moore but decided Devlin’s decision to release the dog was inappropriate.
The case also centered on the Atlantic City Police Department’s use-of-force policies before Henry White became chief in December 2013.
Earlier in the trial, former police Chief Ernest Jubilee testified he did not routinely follow up with officers flagged for alleged repeated use of excessive force and no protocol existed to deal with such officers beyond telling them they had been flagged by the department’s Early Warning System.
Instead, he relied on the officers’ direct commanders to tell them they had been identified by the Early Warning System, which flags officers who receive three or more excessive-force complaints in a single year.
Court testimony revealed during Jubilee’s tenure as acting and permanent chief, 304 internal investigations were completed into excessive-force complaints against officers. Only one of those incidents was sustained.
Jubilee, however, said he was comfortable with those investigations because they were all reviewed by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Atlantic County Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton later testified the Prosecutor’s Office is not responsible for making sure municipal police departments enforce their own policies. Instead, the office looks at each internal complaint to determine whether an officer committed a crime.
Prosecutors do not get involved with the discipline of officers in noncriminal internal affairs complaints and do not record any specific trends among officers who rack up complaints throughout their tenure, she testified. They also do not specifically track how many internal complaints an officer accumulates.
The verdict is the latest in a list of excessive-force cases the city has had to pay for.
The most public of those cases involved then-20-year-old David Connor Castellani following an incident outside Tropicana Atlantic City in 2013.
Castellani required hundreds of stitches, and the city settled the suit for $3 million.