A Camden man who was knocked down and then punched 12 times by a police officer, while other cops pinned him down during a 2018 arrest captured on surveillance video, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the officers of using excessive force and violating his civil rights.
The suit, filed Friday by Edward Minguela in U.S. District Court in Camden, names as defendants Officer Nicholas Romantino, who threw the punches; three other officers; Camden County Police Chief Joseph Wysocki; former Chief Scott Thomson; former Camden County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo; and the City of Camden.
Minguela's attorney, Devon M. Jacob, criticized Camden police and prosecutors for declining to prosecute Romantino, while Minguela was charged with assault because Romantino injured his hand while punching him in the head.
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"The fox has been guarding the hen house," Jacob said, "which explains why the Camden County Prosecutor's Office continues to pursue false criminal charges against Edward Minguela but declined to prosecute Nicholas Romantino for throwing Minguela to the ground and punching him in the back of his head 12 times."
Spokespeople for the Prosecutor's Office and the Police Department declined to discuss the lawsuit.
Romantino has been suspended without pay since the February 2018 incident. Last June, he was acquitted by a federal jury of filing a false report related to the incident, and in September 2019, another federal jury acquitted him of using excessive force.
Officers were investigating an anonymous (and false) report of a person with a gun. Minguela was standing near a liquor store at Collings Road and New Hampshire Avenue in the Fairview section when Romantino and three other officers approached with their guns drawn.
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Surveillance video from the liquor store shows Minguela putting his hands in the air as Romantino puts his gun in his holster. The officer then walks behind Minguela and tries to pull his hands behind him.
"Startled, Minguela instinctually pulled away slightly," the lawsuit says. "Without warning, Romantino grabbed Minguela around the neck and threw Minguela to the ground in an uncontrolled manner."
After his arrest, Minguela was taken to a hospital, where police told him that if he accepted medical treatment, he would be charged with assaulting a police officer and sent to jail that night, the lawsuit says.
Minguela was told that if he refused medical treatment, he would be released that night with citations for obstruction and resisting arrest. He refused medical treatment that night, received the two citations, and was released from custody — then returned to the hospital for treatment the next day, the lawsuit says.
"Minguela was issued the two citations in an attempt to justify the unlawful force used against him and to avoid triggering internal department scrutiny," the suit says.