Holiday From Hell? Atlantic City Vacationers Describe Being Roughed Up by Harrah's Security

Hotel guests file series of lawsuits against Harrah’s Resort over use of force.

August 8, 2014, 8:27 AM

— -- They are calling it the vacation from hell -- a trip to Atlantic City that was supposed to include pool-side fun, boardwalk entertainment, and maybe some poker winnings, instead the Binns family from Florida said they were left battered and bruised at the hands of Harrah’s Resort hotel security officers.

“It was miserable. It was absolutely miserable,” said Renee Binns of the experience she, her husband and their 17-year-old daughter Andrea had when a front desk disagreement over a room key suddenly turned violent.

Video surveillance footage shows how the guards surrounded each of them, threw them to the ground and dragged them on the floor without any obvious physical provocation.

Andrea left with a broken nose. And they were not the only ones to tell ABC News about rough treatment received at the hands of Harrah’s security.

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In recent lawsuits, the Binns and two young men allege that Harrah's security guards used excessive physical force to subdue them in separate incidents. All three altercations were captured on hotel surveillance cameras.

“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.

The casino and its corporate parent company Caesars Entertainment would not provide anyone for an on-camera interview for this report 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 shocking images of tourists being beaten or violently manhandled comes at an inopportune time for Atlantic City, a former gambling mecca that has suffered a sharp decline in business in recent years, according to Mayor Don Guardian.

Two of the city’s largest casino hotels, the Atlantic Club and Showboat, announced plans to shut down recently, with a third, the gleaming 70-story Revel Casino Hotel, is on the block and could shutter if a buyer is not found. All the closings are a result of a downward spiral in gaming revenue that comes as newly-legalized rival casinos have sprouted up in surrounding states.

When ABC News showed Guardian the surveillance footage, he said he was shocked by what he saw and dismayed that the incidents could create a further deterrent for tourists looking for a fun place to spend a few days.

“This is a city that needs to be hospitable,” Guardian said. “That type of activity can’t occur. When that occurs, we’re in the wrong business.”

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Harrah’s appears to be pursuing a strategy to attract a younger crowd. The hotel hosts packed weekend pool parties with throbbing music and free-flowing booze.

Sean Oaks, 26, a University of Pennsylvania neuroscience student and classical guitar player, said he was persuaded by a friend that the casino had a great party scene.

His friend told him, "'You should come! It’s a great chance to meet girls.' So I was like 'fine, let's go!'" Oaks said.

After waiting in a long line, Oaks said a security guard took hold of his driver’s license and began to study it closely. On the video, the guard appears to be bending the license in half, with Oaks objecting and trying to grab it back. Guards surround the lanky college student. The altercation that follows is just of out view of the cameras, but as Oaks describes it, he was almost instantly rendered helpless.

“A whole gang of people jumped on me and piled on and kicked me and hit me in the back of the head,” he said. “They were whaling on me. And it was just this shock of force that came down out of nowhere.”

“I had no idea what was going on,” Oaks said. “One guy is like, trying to grab my leg and bend it backwards. I thought he was trying to break my knee. They started to do the same thing to my shoulder. I’m in a turtle position on the ground. And one guy was like -- I heard a voice behind me say -- "Break his arms if you have to.'"

Within minutes, Oaks can be seen on surveillance footage being dragged, handcuffed, into a holding room, with a bloody laceration under his eye. He, too, is now suing the hotel.

A gruesome beating involved Rob Coney, whose 6-foot-7 height made him a standout basketball player in school. An off duty Atlantic City police officer working for the hotel said in a police report that Coney’s size made he and other guards fearful when Coney refused to leave the pool area during one of Harrah’s late-night parties.

Coney said a guard wrongly insisted he had exited the pool party and could not return. Coney acknowledged he had been drinking at the time, like most of those at the party, and said he became upset and used rough language. As his friends tried to calm the situation, Coney said Harrah’s security, including the off duty police officer, surrounded him.

“The next thing I know this officer strikes me in the my throat and then he brings out his baton and strikes me right here on my head,” Coney said. “And then he chases me and beats me.”

Coney can be seen being dragged, collapsed and apparently unconscious, and bleeding from his head. The off-duty officer later alleged that Coney pushed him twice and charged him in a fighting manner, something not seen on the video provided to ABC News by his attorney. Coney later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly person count. No charges were brought against the off duty officer who beat Coney with the baton and Coney has now filed a civil suit.

Nick Casale, a retired New York police officer and security expert, watched the videotapes for ABC News, and expressed deep concerns about the use of force by the security guards and off-duty officer.

“I mean that, that’s an assault,” Casale said.

Casale said no one using foul language, no matter how offensive, deserves a baton beating.

“They may be obnoxious,” he said. “The worst thing you can imagine does not justify you hitting someone with a nightstick – and not just him them, he whaled at ‘em.”

Mayor Guardian said he has been pushing to do more to make the resort a welcoming, family friendly place. He said he had not seen the videos from Harrah’s until we showed them. And he did not like what he saw.

After watching the actions of the off duty Atlantic City police officer with the baton, he said he was going to bring the matter to the attention of his police chief. The mayor added that when he took office at the beginning of this year, he prohibited police officers from moonlighting as casinos bouncers.

“Beating can’t be tolerated. It’s not acceptable. Violence can’t be tolerated,” he said.

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