Steven Stadler, 49, was calm in federal court Wednesday as he told jurors he was punched and kicked by three Atlantic City police officers until he lost consciousness as they arrested him in 2013.
But he struggled to get the words out when it came to the police dog. He later appeared to wipe away a tear when he looked at photographs of his own bite wounds from that night.
“When I came to, I had a dog on my thigh, pulling me down the street, as I was still being hit,” he said. “I was scared. I was confused. I thought I was going to die that day.”
Stadler is suing Officers Glenn Abrams, John Devlin and William Moore as well as the city, alleging that Atlantic City Police Department has a culture and practice of allowing officers to use excessive force and then ignoring any complaints about it.
In the first day of the trial Wednesday, in federal U.S. District Court in Camden, Stadler testified that he was not resisting arrest when he was beaten by officers, who were arresting him after catching him breaking into a carwash.
But defense attorneys said in their opening statements that the story Stadler tells does not mesh with what the officers say happened, or even with some of his own previous statements.
Plus, he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest in the March 13, 2013 incident, and has now reversed his position. He said he pleaded guilty just to get a lesser sentence that would send him to a drug treatment program.
“Mr. Stadler’s story evolves. It starts to change,” Tracy Riley, the attorney representing the three officers, said in her opening argument.
She said officers had to resort to force because Stadler, who had used crack cocaine, was struggling and trying to get away. “The officers in this case didn’t use any more force than was reasonably necessary,” she said.
Stadler testified that he had consumed beer and used crack cocaine earlier on March 13, 2013, and by 10 p.m. was walking through Atlantic City, trying to figure out how he was going to get bus fare back to his hotel room in Egg Harbor Township.
At the car wash, he tried to pry open the compartment that held the change, using a screwdriver and a wrench he found there, he testified. Then, he said, a man in a dark SUV pulled up and asked what he was doing, so he picked up the tools and fled.
The man was Abrams, who was off-duty but had spotted Stadler in the car wash, which according to testimony was owned by a sergeant in the police department.
Riley told jurors that he identified himself as a police officer, but Stadler maintains he never did. Morrison Fairbairn, who is representing the city, said in his openings that Stadler and Abrams scuffled there, while Stadler was holding the tools.
Stadler testified that Abrams followed him to an alley, where he dropped the tools, and then around a corner, where Moore pulled up in a cruiser. He said that when Moore ordered him to put his hands on the hood, he did.
He testified that Moore had cuffed one of his wrists when Abrams…