[As 2014 comes to a close, the ABC News Brian Ross Investigative Unit looks back on some major reports over the last year.]
A family from Florida, a 26-year-old University of Pennsylvania student and a 25-year-old one-time basketball standout are some of the people who say they were assaulted by security guards at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, as reported in an ABC News “20/20” investigation.
The August investigation showed that the separate incidents, which were all captured on hotel surveillance cameras, began as disagreements with the hotel’s staff and escalated to violence. The family and the two young men all sued the casino, alleging the guards used aggressive physical force against them, leaving them battered and bruised.
“No sane person can explain the conduct that we see in those videos,” said Paul D’Amato, one of the New Jersey attorneys handling the cases against Harrah’s.
In the case of the Binns family from Florida, a front desk disagreement between John Binns, a professional poker player, and hotel staff, over a room key, became heated. Then, surveillance footage shows how guards surrounded Binns, his wife Renee, and 17-year-old daughter Andrea, threw them on the ground and dragged them on the floor, without any obvious physical provocation. Andrea was left with a broken nose.
Sean Oaks, the college student, and Rob Coney, the former basketball player, who is now an aspiring businessman, told ABC News that their own disagreements in the hotel escalated and they found themselves being tackled by guards and hauled to a security holding room. Security footage of each incident provided to ABC News by the two mens' attorneys showed Oaks emerging from his altercation with a gash under his eye, and Coney being struck by a guard on the head with a baton, then dragged across the hotel floor, leaving a trail of blood.
Harrah’s and its corporate parent company, Caesars Entertainment, would not provide anyone for an on-camera interview with ABC News, and declined to comment on specific cases or the videos. But in a written statement Harrah's said, "Our security personnel are trained to use the least amount of force required to manage any particular incident while ensuring they are taking necessary steps to protect guests, employees and themselves.”
The men's attorneys have called on state and federal prosecutors to launch criminal investigations into their incidents, but those attorneys have told ABC News they are still unaware of any criminal inquiries. Caesars also did not respond to an inquiry about the call for these investigations. Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey declined to comment on the incidents. A spokesman for the Atlantic County prosecutor said the office also did not wish to comment.
The ABC News investigation came at a time when Atlantic City was suffering a sharp decline in business, and ABC News showed the graphic footage to Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, who said he was shocked by what he saw. “This is a city that needs to be hospitable,” Guardian said after watching the videos. “That type of activity can’t occur. When that occurs, we’re in the wrong business."
The attorneys representing Oaks and Coney say that another individual with a similar complaint has sued the casino after the ABC News "20/20" report aired, and that others have come forward after seeing the ABC News investigation. In addition, settlements were later reached in the Binns’ family’s lawsuits against the casino. The terms of the agreements are confidential. A representative for Harrah's declined to comment on the latest developments.