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Aggressive Atlantic City Cop With Long Lawsuit History Sued Again for Confiscating Camera


We first heard about Atlantic City police officer Sterling Wheaten in September when a surveillance video emerged showing him sic his dog on a man who was already getting brutalized by five other cops.

Wheaten, it turned out, had been sued three times over the three previous years for abusing citizens and had been investigated countless times by internal affairs, as if that ever makes a difference.

Atlantic City police officer Sterling Wheaten

Atlantic City police officer Sterling Wheaten

Now he is not only being sued by the man whom he sicced his dog on, David Castellani, he is being sued by a woman who claims he assaulted her before ripping the phone out of her hand as she tried to record him. She claims he handed the phone to another officer, who walked away with it, only for her never to see it again.

According to the Press of Atlantic City: 

Wheaten is accused of assaulted Janine Costantino, of Bayonne, as she used a camera phone to record an altercation last summer between relatives and police inside an elevator at Caesars Atlantic City, according to a civil suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Camden.

The lawsuit claims Wheaten illegally confiscated the phone before passing it to an unidentified third party who “either destroyed or secreted the evidence.”

The lawsuit states that on July 20, 2012, 11 months before Castellani’s arrest, Costantino and several relatives went to Dusk nightclub in Caesars to celebrate her brother’s 21st birthday. According to the suit, Costantino and her sister returned from the bathroom sometime after midnight to find officials physically removing her brother and brother-in-law.

Ten people, including the four clubgoers, police and security guards, “jammed into an elevator” leaving Dusk. Once inside, two security personnel, who aren’t identified in the suit, held Costantino’s brother-in-law in a headlock and the group engaged in “pushing and shoving” within the confined space.

“As full on chaos developed inside the elevator, (Costantino) began to video the incident with her cell phone,” the suit reads. When the elevator doors opened, Wheaten allegedly shoved Costantino out and she fell into a wall. He then allegedly grabbed her brother by the head and tackled him to the ground.

At some point during the altercation, Costantino told the crowd she was recording the incident “in an effort to stop the assault on her brother.”

“Give me the phone, you (expletive),” Wheaten said, according to the suit, turning his attention to Costantino.

With one security person pinning Costantino’s right shoulder, Wheaten pulled her left arm and smashed her head against the ground while continuing to yell expletives at her, the suit alleges. Costantino let go of the phone after Wheaten began twisting her left hand.

“Wheaten continued to force his knee into (Costantino’s) back while attempting to review the footage on the phone,” the suit reads.

He then allegedly threw the phone against a wall, but it ricocheted back and was retrieved by Costantino. At that point, Wheaten began to beat her again and, again, she relinquished the phone, according to the suit.

About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.