CAMDEN, NJ — Camden Police Chief Joe Wysocki — who among others in the city and county are being sued by a resident over claims that excessive force was used to arrest him two years ago — said Wednesday the incident does not reflect the department’s culture.
Edward Minguela filed the lawsuit last Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Camden claiming his civil rights were violated during the February 2018 arrest when he was held down by officers and punched 12 times in the head.
A video of the incident circulated online shortly after the arrest.
“If anybody watches that video I think you’ll have the same conclusion as I do,” Wysocki said to a crowd gathered at the Camden Historical Society for a Parkside Business & Community In Partnership (PBCIP) meeting. “When we see that video, we go, ‘Where did [the department] go wrong?’... I can’t say we did anything wrong but I will say, we have updated our ‘use of force’ policy. We look in the mirror and go, ‘How can we get better?”
Minguela’s lawsuit claims that Camden County police officer Nicholas Romantino, who is no longer with the force, used excessive force during his arrest when he, “punched [him] repeatedly in the back of the neck and head, causing pain and physical injury.”
Wysocki was a deputy chief at the time of the arrest.
The suit also includes claims against Camden County, former Camden County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo and former Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson. Also named were three other Camden police officers — two of which held Minguela down as Romantino allegedly, “punched [Minguela] repeatedly in the back of the neck and head, causing pain and physical injury.”
The third reportedly left the scene and did not intervene.
Attempts to reach Normantino were unsuccessful and the county has not commented on the pending litigation.
Devon Jacob, Minguela’s attorney, previously said the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office continues to pursue false charges against his client but declines to prosecute Normantino.
Camden County Police Department spokesman Dan Keashen said Romantino was suspended without pay following the arrest.
Following two trials last year, Romantino was acquitted of criminal charges of violating Minguela’s civil rights and falsifying records linked to the incident.
Wysocki said he cannot defend Romantino’s actions but noted that the department recognizes that “de-escalation is key.”
The Camden County Police Department (CCPD) rolled out a new “use of force” policy last August with the help of The Policing Project out of the NYU Law School.
Sgt. Raphael Thornton, who trains officers with help from virtual reality technology, said the incident involving Normantino, “was an anomaly.”
“The culture of our department is based on the sanctity of life,” he said.
LaVerne Williams, lifelong Camden resident, asked during the meeting how new Camden officers are trained.
Thornton said, “They’re being trained in de-escalation proportionality [and] sanctity of life.”
He noted that much of the policy in place is based on a culture that was already prevalent in the department based on “treating people with respect.”
As part of the suit — which Minguela requested a trial for — he is seeking compensatory, punitive damages, and an admission of the allegations.
The department’s Internal Affairs Unit is currently processing the case, according to Keashen.