N.J. police officer arrested after brutal K-9 attack that cost city $3M

A lawsuit against Atlantic City alleges the officer was accused of excessive force 23 times over seven years.
An Atlantic City police officer has been arrested for his role in a June 2013 arrest that left a Linwood man with 200 stitches after a brutal attack by the officer's K-9.
Sterling Wheaten, an officer with the Atlantic City Police Department since 2007, was arrested by federal authorities Thursday, NJ Advance Media has confirmed.
BreakingAC reported the news first.
According to the website, Wheaten's attorney said he was indicted on charges that he deprived David Castellani, then 20, of his civil rights and that he falsified records.
"It's most unfortunate," Lou Barbone, Wheaten's attorney, told Breaking AC.
"Sterling's done nothing but serve his community for the past 10 years." Video of the arrest, which quickly went viral, shows Castellani leaving the Tropicana casino around 3 a.m.
and approaching a group of police officers.
According to a lawsuit filed by Castellani against the city, the 20-year-old was asking officers for help getting to the other side of the hotel.
The exchange soon became contentious.
Castellani was eventually tackled to the ground and was being beaten by four officers as they told him to "stop resisting," according to the lawsuit.
After Castellani was subdued and had one hand in handcuffs, Wheaten arrived and emerged from his vehicle with his K-9 partner.
Wheaten released the dog, and it mauled the back of Castellani's head, his neck and his chest, as officers, including Wheaten, continued to punch and kick Castellani, according to the lawsuit.
Castellani was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. He eventually had his record cleared after he entered into a pretrial intervention program.
The incident was one of the most high-profile excessive-force complaints in recent years in the state. It settled for $3 million in September 2017.
An Atlantic County grand jury had previously cleared the five officers involved in the Castellani case of any wrongdoing.
"I hope more of them are charged.
There is a culture in that department that allows officers like Sterling Wheaten to thrive," Castellani's attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, told NJ Advance Media.
In subsequent lawsuits against the city and the police department, lawyers have honed in on excessive use-of-force complaints against Wheaten and the lack of repercussions from those.
In a separate excessive force lawsuit that Wheaten was not named in, Bonjean analyzed the police department's internal affairs files.
In seven years, Wheaten had 23 excessive force complaints against him.
None was ever deemed credible nor was he ever disciplined, according to court documents.
When he applied for one of three open K-9 positions in 2012, Wheaten received the prestigious position despite having the highest number of internal affairs complaints against him of the 24 applicants, according to court documents.
Wheaten is due in federal court Thursday, according to BreakingAC.
Joe Atmonavage may be reached at jatmonavage@njadvancemedia.com. Find NJ.com on Facebook. 

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