Atlantic City must release all of its Internal Affairs files for 11 years, a federal judge in Camden ruled Friday.

While the lawsuit that prompted the order names just two Atlantic City police officers, the city must reveal its files on all officers from 2003 to December of last year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider said. He estimated it would be about 2,000 files.

“The incessant discovery disputes” over the production of the files “have gone on long enough,” Schneider wrote in his ruling.

The federal lawsuit, stemming from a July 2012 incident at Caesars Atlantic City, claims the alleged excessive force used by the Atlantic City police officers is part of a practice the department allows, as evidenced by the fact that no Internal Affairs complaints have been substantiated by investigators.

The judge previously ordered a sampling of Internal Affairs files be produced. Attorney Jennifer Bonjean requested 721.

But after hearing arguments and expert testimony, Schneider said he was convinced that Atlantic City should produce all of its files, regardless of the officer named.

“The court does not want there to be any ambiguity in its ruling,” he wrote. “In short, (Bonjean) will get everything she originally asked for.”

Both sides must meet in a short time and decide how the files will be turned over. Bonjean may get copies of all the files, or look over them and pick just the ones she wants, the judge ruled.

Schneider made it clear his ruling does not mean the claim has been proven, only that the reports should be produced.

The case stems from a federal lawsuit filed by Janine Constantino concerning an alleged case of brutality at the Dusk nightclub inside Caesars, where she and family members were celebrating her brother’s 21 birthday.

The casino is also named in the suit.

Constantino claims she was assaulted by police and security personnel because she was videotaping an attack on her brother.

It is similar to another suit, which names one of the same officers, Sterling Wheaten, and was the result of a 2010 incident at Dusk.

In that case, filed by plaintiff Matthew Groark, of Woodbury, Bonjean’s expert reviewed 70 Internal Affairs reports and found a “catastrophic failure of (the department’s) Internal Affairs to impartially and thoroughly investigate” the two officers in those complaints. None of them was substantiated by investigators.

The Atlantic City Police Department has since redone the way it operates its Internal Affairs Unit and has a program in place meant to give early warning signs of problem officers.

Wheaten has been the focus of several suits, most notably when he allegedly released his K-9 partner on a Linwood man in a June 15, 2013, incident outside Tropicana Casino and Resort.

The case garnered national attention after video of the incident was released after the man’s family filed a lawsuit.

A grand jury cleared Wheaten and other officers of any criminal wrongdoing in that case. The jurors instead indicted David Connor Castellani, who received more than 200 stitches to close up wounds to his head from the dog.

His case is continuing in criminal court while he is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the officers and Atlantic City police.

The officers’ attorney, Tracy Riley, could not be reached for comment.

Bonjean said she could not add anything to the judge’s ruling.

Contact Lynda Cohen:


@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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