The U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday that a grand jury found evidence that Officer Nicholas Romantino, 25, of Egg Harbor Township, violated Edward Minguela's civil rights by repeatedly punching him in the head and then falsified a police report to cover up the assault.
The indictment against Romantino comes more than six months after the Camden County Prosecutor's Office announced he would not be charged with a crime because body camera videos showed Minguela was resisting arrest by pulling away from officers.
The office has also ignored calls from a civil rights lawyer to drop the obstruction and resisting arrest charges against Minguela, 32, of Camden.
The police department called the surveillance video of the incident "extremely disturbing" and suspended Romantino without pay pending an internal affairs investigation.
On Friday, police spokesman Dan Keashen said only, "We're standing by our previous comments regarding this incident."
The Feb. 22 incident was sparked by a 911 call reporting a man matching Minguela's description had a gun. What happened next was captured on surveillance video, which Minguela obtained and distributed to the media when he called for an investigation into what happened to him.
Numerous police officers stopped Minguela at gunpoint and he put his hands up, at which point Romantino tried to pull his hands behind his back. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office release, the move "startled" Minguela and he pulled away, causing Romantino to throw him on the ground.
Then Romantino, "without provocation," punched Minguela 12 times in the head while other officers moved to hold his arms and legs, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Romantino, in a police report, wrote that Minguela was resisting by putting his left hand under his chest and trying to lift himself off the ground, and added that he could not see Minguela's right hand.
But that report, which tried to justify the use of force, was false, the indictment alleges. Romantino actually held Minguela's left hand while punching the back of his head. Another officer held the man's right arm, the office said.
Romantino can be seen on body camera footage obtained by NJ Advance Media using his right hand to punch Minguela. The officer was later treated at Virtua Hospital for injuries to his right hand.
That same body camera footage showed that Romantino joked about the incident with officers.
While showing his swollen knuckles, a fellow officer says of Minguela, "That guy. He's always giving us a hard time, that guy."
"Not anymore," Romantino quipped, eliciting a few chuckles from his colleagues.
Romantino has been on the force for two years and is paid an annual salary of $38,864, according to records.
Minguela's attorney said he suffered a concussion and a fractured wrist as a result of the encounter.
Minguela also claims that when police took him to the hospital, they bargained with him that if he declined medical treatment, they would not tack on a charge of assault and battery of a police officer, too.
He agreed, he's said.
The charges against Minguela are still active in municipal court, but his attorney, Devon Jacob of Pennsylvania, said the videos show there is no reasonable cause to support them.
The violation of civil rights count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The false records count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The maximum fine for each of the charges is $250,000, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The office said that special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Harpster of the Philadelphia Division, led the investigation with help from the Internal Affairs Unit of the Camden County Police Department and investigators assigned to the Special Prosecution Unit of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.