Hurricane Relief Providers Sue Sheriff and Casino Security for Brutality

Sept. 21, 2006
Businessmen say they were abused by casino security en route to delivering SUV of hurricane supplies

BIRMINGHAM, Mich., Sept. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Three Michigan businessmen, who purchased a truckload of relief supplies for Hurricane Rita victims and drove down to Louisiana to deliver them, are suing the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Department, certain sheriff department deputies, Harrah's Entertainment (the owner and operator of a local gambling casino), and certain Harrah's employees for assault, false arrest, false imprisonment, willful misconduct, and deprivations of civil and constitutional rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

The Michigan businessmen have retained the Birmingham, Michigan-based law firm of Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C. (NYA) to represent them and manage the litigation on their behalf. NYA has recently filed their complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

The three businessmen, Mr. Louis Toth, Mr. Jeffrey Schmitz, and Mr. Ronald Moon, operate a franchise of 23 vehicle glass repair shops in Michigan. The complaint states that in late September 2005, the three businessmen bought a whole truckload of relief supplies, rented an SUV, and drove it down themselves. Although their destination was Port Arthur, Texas, they never made it. Hurricane Rita was making landfall too fast. At Lake Charles, Louisiana, they encountered hurricane-force winds and had to stop and hunker down. Based on earlier experience with hurricane relief conditions, they parked their vehicle in Harrah's parking structure as a temporary refuge.

According to the complaint, the area was deserted, and Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon began walking to investigate weather conditions. To protect against flying debris, they had dressed in snowmobile helmets, chest protectors and shin guards. Suddenly, armed Harrah's security guards and an armed sheriff's deputy confronted them with their guns drawn. These armed men hauled Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon into a nearby building, duct-taped their ankles, handcuffed them, accused them of looting, threatened them and interrogated them. When Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon tried to explain their mission, denied any wrongdoing, or offered to show them receipts for their merchandise, these hoodlums only grew angrier and continued their misconduct. A little later, these thugs handed them over to a group of sheriff's deputies, who choked them, beat them, and abused them and otherwise continued the emotional, verbal, and physical assault.

The complaint states: Then, these uniformed gangsters herded them into the parish jail, where the sheriff department held them incommunicado and left them to rot for several days. The food, living, and sanitation conditions were those of a third world prison. The jail cell was suffocatingly hot, humid and overcrowded. All mattresses were removed from their cells, forcing them to sleep on bare concrete floors. The meals had no fruit or vegetables. Instead, the food was so nauseating that they could not swallow it without gagging. The sink and toilet were not working, and the jailers did not bother to arrange for repairs. Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon had to perform their natural functions in the sink and reduce them to an absolute minimum. The jailers refused to turn on nearby fans to ventilate the cell. The air in the jail cell was almost unbreathable.

After several days, Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon got out of jail after they each posted a bond of approximately $25,000.00, despite having no criminal record. They returned home without delivering their hurricane relief supplies as they planned, although they did provide water to the bondsmen who assisted with their release. Nonetheless, until charges were recently dropped, they faced criminal charges in a city 1,300 miles away for crimes they did not commit.

"Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon did not deserve the brutality, the arrest and confinement without probable cause under such horrendous and inhumane conditions," said their attorney, Birmingham, Michigan-based attorney Norman A. Yatooma. "Under the law, Harrah's Entertainment and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Department are responsible for adopting and enforcing policies and rules preventing these kinds of misconduct. Nevertheless, Mr. Toth, Mr. Schmitz, and Mr. Moon intend to hold Harrah's Entertainment and Calcasieu Sheriff Department responsible under the Constitution and the law. This misconduct was not negligent, but intentional, and was perpetrated by deputies and guards enforcing established policies, procedures and practices."

Norman Yatooma and Associates is a full service law firm offering expertise in civil and criminal cases in its Oakland, Macomb and Emmett County offices. While the firm has a wide range of practice groups and areas, it specializes in complex litigation, including complex commercial, constitutional, and tort litigation.

SOURCE Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C.