A federal jury deciding the fate of a Camden County Police Department officer who was caught on video appearing to punch an unarmed suspect told a judge on Monday that it was deadlocked. The judge ordered the jury to continue its work.
After deliberating for about eight hours over two days, the jury sent a note Monday afternoon to U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler with a question in the trial of Nicholas Romantino, charged with violating the civil rights of Edward Minguela in February 2018.
”We are deadlocked. People are adamant on both sides. How long do we need to go before this is a mistrial?" the jury asked in a note Kugler read aloud.
Romantino’s lawyer, Daniel E. Rybeck, said it appeared inevitable that the case would end in a mistrial.
Kugler told the jury that “it is your duty to deliberate” and asked the panel to try to reach a decision in the case. The trial began last Monday and the jury began deliberating Friday afternoon.
”Take as much time as you need. There is no hurry,” Kugler said.
The jury deliberated for another hour and went home at 4:15 p.m. It will return at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Romantino, 26, of Egg Harbor Township, was charged last November in a two-count indictment. He was accused of assaulting Minguela on Feb. 22, 2018, in Camden and trying to cover-up the beating.
The beating was recorded by a liquor store’s surveillance camera and has been viewed thousands of times on social media. The black-and-white video appears to show Romantino pushing Minguela to the ground and punching him in the back of the head about a dozen times.
The video was played during the trial for the jury, and an eyewitness who also recorded the incident on his cell phone testified. The defense contends that Romantino feared for his safety and that of two other officers, and that Romantino used needed force because Minguela failed to comply with orders.
Romantino and the two other officers were removed from street duty pending the outcome of an investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. The two other officers have returned to duty, a spokesperson said.
According to the indictment, Romantino, a two-year veteran of the Camden County force, responded to a dispatcher’s report of a “man with a gun” in the area of Collings and New Hampshire Roads in Camden’s Fairview section.
When officers arrived at the location, another officer stopped Minguela and told him to put his hands up, and Minguela complied, the indictment says. Romantino approached Minguela from behind and tried to pull his arm behind his back, which startled Minguela, the indictment says. He reacted by pulling his arm away from Romantino, and the officer then threw Minguela to the ground.
Romantino rolled Minguela onto his stomach, and another officer grabbed Minguela’s legs while a second officer grabbed his right arm, according to the indictment. Romantino grabbed Minguela’s left hand.
The indictment does not identify Minguela as the victim, but Minguela and his attorney have said that Minguela is the man in the video. Neither Minguela nor Romantino testified during the trial.
Minguela was treated for a broken wrist, bruising, and a concussion. He was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction. A weapon was not found. Romantino underwent treatment at Virtua Hospital in Camden for injuries to his right hand that he suffered as a result of punching Minguela in the head, prosecutors said.
Romantino allegedly submitted a fraudulent report seeking to justify actions against Minguela, the indictment says. The report falsely stated that the victim “placed his left hand under his chest and began to try [to] lift himself off the ground. Due to the fact that the male was trying to lift himself up and I was unable to see his right hand I began to strike the male in the head with a closed fist....”