A federal grand jury has indicted an Atlantic City police officer for multiple offenses in connection to an assault outside Tropicana in June, 2013.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey announced today that 34-year-old Sterling Wheaten of Mays Landing has been charged with one count of violating an individual’s civil rights and one count of falsifying a record for submitting a false police report about the assault.

Wheaten made an initial court appearance in Camden Thursday and was released on $50,000 unsecured bond.

Authorities say (*see note at end of story) on June 15, 2013, Wheaten was working as an Atlantic City police officer with his K-9. That day, four officers encountered the victim in the area of the Tropicana. After the victim was told to leave the area, the victim walked across Morris Avenue and began yelling threats and obscenities at the officers. After several minutes, an ACPD officer ran across the street to arrest him. During an ensuing struggle, ACPD officers radioed for the assistance of a K-9 officer. Wheaten responded and to the call and immediately took his dog out of the vehicle and ran directly at the victim and the other officers. Without issuing a warning that he would deploy the dog, or allowing the victim a chance to surrender, Wheaten released the dog and the dog bit the victim in the chest.

The victim pushed the dog off of his chest and rolled to his side. The dog bit the victim on the back of his neck. Wheaten did not immediately remove the dog from the back of the victim’s neck, but instead told the dog to “hold” on the victim’s neck. While the dog was biting the back of the victim’s neck, Wheaten punched the victim twice in the shoulder/neck area. Eventually, the victim was handcuffed and taken to ARMC-City where he was treated for dog bites to his head, neck, and chest.

To justify his actions against the victim, Wheaten prepared and submitted false and fraudulent police reports. He wrote that the victim was “fighting my K9 partner,” “[struck] my partner with his right hand,” “a further violent struggle ensued,” and, in an effort to falsely justify the utilization of the K-9, that the “suspect violently assaulted uniformed law enforcement officer[s] with hands and fists . . . .” As part of the report, Wheaten, in an effort to falsely justify the closed fist punches to the victim, falsely stated that he feared that the victim “was going to get up and retrieve his weapon to injure us or flee the area endangering the public.” As part of the report, Wheaten falsely stated that he provided first aid to the victim’s wound until the ambulance/EMT arrived.

The victim, identified in previous reports, is David Connor Castellani of Linwood.

If convicted, Wheaten faces up to 10 years in prison on the civil rights count and up to 20 years in prison for the false records count. The maximum fine for each of the charges is $250,000.


*Note: the above account was edited from a lengthy press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey. Click here to read the full account of the events of June 15, 2013.

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