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Guard charged with assault in security dog’s attack on Black man at South Jersey restaurant

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 8/5/2021 Melanie Burney, The Philadelphia Inquirer
a group of people in a field holding a kite: Shanta Smith (front) joins other protesters gathered outside the Adelphia restaurant in Deptford Wednesday/ © TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer Shanta Smith (front) joins other protesters gathered outside the Adelphia restaurant in Deptford Wednesday/

A guard has been charged with aggravated assault for an attack by his security dog on a patron at a popular South Jersey restaurant and nightclub, acting Gloucester County Prosecutor Christine A. Hoffman announced Wednesday.

Steven T. Rudy, 33, of Virginia, was charged in connection with the July 29 incident at the Adelphia Restaurant in Deptford, the prosecutor said. Details on his whereabouts were not immediately available, and it is unclear why he was working in New Jersey.

The victim, Khalif Hunter, 26, of Burlington City, who is Black, said he was pinned to the ground with a knee in his abdomen by a white guard who commanded a trained security dog to bite him repeatedly.

“This is definitely a good start,” Hunter said in reference to the charges against Rudy. He declined further comment, citing possible litigation.

While authorities since the incident said it was under investigation, civil rights leaders and protesters demonstrated in front of the restaurant and pressured prosecutors to file charges.

Hoffman said that authorities found probable cause to issue a criminal complaint against Rudy and that the investigation is ongoing. She did not disclose the name of the private, out-of-state security firm, which the restaurant has terminated, according to its attorney, Joseph P. Grimes.

Rudy, who has addresses in Lorton and Franklin, Va., could not be reached for comment.

“It has been absolutely necessary and appropriate to undertake this investigation at a time when the use of force, and circumstances under which force is deployed, is a topic of extensive public discussion and concern,” Hoffman said in the statement. “The patience of our local communities and stakeholders has been of great benefit as we’ve been conducting our investigation.”

The Gloucester County chapter of the NAACP said it welcomed the charges. The group argued that they were warranted because of the use of force captured on video that went viral.

“We strongly condemn the egregious and unnecessary course of action the guard took against Mr. Khalif Hunter,” NAACP president Loretta Winters said. “The injuries suffered by this young man are disconcerting.”

The attack occurred in the parking lot around 1 a.m. last Thursday during a scuffle between Hunter and the then-unidentified security officer about Hunter’s baseball cap. The restaurant’s dress code bans hats and Hunter initially refused to remove his. In an apparent partial video of the episode, Hunter is seen walking away and is heard calling the officer a racist.

Hunter said the guard pinned him to the ground with a knee in his abdomen and commanded a trained security dog to bite him repeatedly. Hunter grabbed at the dog’s leash to defend himself.

a close up of a man: Khalif Hunter, 26, from Burlington City, said a white guard pinned him to the ground and commanded a security dog to bite him repeatedly outside a popular Deptford restaurant and club Thursday morning. © MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photograp Khalif Hunter, 26, from Burlington City, said a white guard pinned him to the ground and commanded a security dog to bite him repeatedly outside a popular Deptford restaurant and club Thursday morning.

According to Hunter, the guard issued the dog an order — “Live bite!” — several times as Hunter was already prone and not moving. That was not captured on the video. Hunter said he was bitten three times on the lower right calf and once on the inner right thigh.

”Adelphia regrets any instance where anyone is injured on its premises,” said Grimes, the restaurant’s lawyer, in a statement issued Wednesday evening. He said a “new security firm is in place which does not plan to include canine protection in its security plan.”

Protesters have demonstrated almost daily in front of the restaurant on Clements Bridge Road across from the Deptford Mall. They set up signs that read “Honk if Black Lives Matter” and raised clenched fists when motorists honked their horns. They returned Wednesday night. Camden activist Gary Frazier said his group, known as “The Movement,” is seeking an apology from Adelphia’s owners.

a group of people standing in front of a sign: Zachariah Rattigan, 6, waves a BLM flag while sitting on the shoulders of his father, Bradley Pennypacker of Woodbury, joining other protesters outside the Adelphia restaurant in Deptford on Wednesday. They want an apology from the restaurant's owner after a Black man was bitten by a guard dog. © TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer Zachariah Rattigan, 6, waves a BLM flag while sitting on the shoulders of his father, Bradley Pennypacker of Woodbury, joining other protesters outside the Adelphia restaurant in Deptford on Wednesday. They want an apology from the restaurant's owner after a Black man was bitten by a guard dog.

“We wanted the charges,” Frazier, 45, said. “At the same time, our attention is on that owner.”

Grimes said Hunter’s medical bills would be paid by an insurance carrier. The restaurant’s owners had no plans to apologize, he said.

“Adelphia has no basis to apologize,” Grimes said. “Adelphia has done nothing wrong.”

In his statement Wednesday evening, Grimes said: “Contentions of fault and compensation if any can be resolved in the appropriate place, the Courts, not in the streets.”

Adelphia had hired a private security firm recently to handle the large crowds that began showing up at the restaurant when it fully reopened from the pandemic shutdown, Grimes said.

Although there is no indication that Rudy is or was a sworn officer, in December, then-state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal banned law enforcement officers from using canines against those resisting arrest who do not pose a threat. The revised use-of-force policy prohibits “the visible presence of canines for crowd control purposes at peaceful demonstrations, except in response to a death threat or serious bodily injury. Police canines are permitted at demonstrations or rallies for security sweeps to check for explosives.

Grewal said civil rights leaders asked for the policy change, citing the use of police dogs against people of color during peaceful protests during the 1960s. According to a study cited by Grewal, a trained police canine can bite with force up to 1,200 pounds per square inch, enough to crush a bone.

Hunter, who works for Aveanna Healthcare in Trevose scheduling and opening home health-care cases, has said the assault would have a lingering effect on him. Hunter said he received three shots for rabies and tetanus but didn’t require stitches. His attorney, Simon Haileab, of Wapner Newman, did not respond to a message.

NAACP calls for state probe of deadly Deptford strip mall shooting

In 2017, the NAACP condemned another episode at Adelphia involving a costume at a Halloween party that included a noose, a symbol of intimidation to Black Americans, that wound up in a photograph that went viral on social media. It led to a resolution between civil rights officials and the restaurant.

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