A pair of gamblers who had their night of entertainment come to an unexpected end in 2017 have turned the tables. The men claimed that New Jersey State Police detectives violated their civil rights during an incident at Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget casino. A federal judge has now ruled in their favor.
Gamblers Targeted for No Good Reason
Lawrence Mills and Daniel Chun, both Maryland residents, claimed they were subject to an illegal search and seizure following their arrests at the Golden Nugget in November 2017. In a December 20 ruling, US District Judge Harvey Bartle agreed, granting summary judgment to Mills and Chun. The ruling focused on the searches of the suspects.
Mills and Chun were taken into custody after a Golden Nugget surveillance officer reported “suspicious activities” at the casino. According to the casino’s report, the pair had deposited $1,000 in cash “back to back” at the casino. The casino was offering match deposits up to $1,000 as part of a promotion.
Mills testified that he gave the money to Chun as an advance and that he used other people’s online gaming accounts for them to play and promised them a portion of any winnings.
According to the ruling, Chun was unable to access his account via the casino’s Wine and WI-Fi Lounge because of technical difficulties and because the Golden Nugget had frozen his funds.
Police Step in and Overstep Their Bounds
The casino filed a report with the State Police Casino Gaming Bureau the same day as the incident. Detective Sergeants Richard Wheeler and Carl Smallwood responded and took the men into custody without probable cause. Later, Detective Sergeant Lance Moorehouse would be brought into the ordeal, as well. He and other officers were called to offer support in surveillance.
Smallwood and Moorehouse stopped Chun later as he was walking towards a car in the garage of the casino. Wheeler then arrested him.
Chun stated that Wheeler slammed him from behind against the door and put him on the ground in handcuffs, without giving any explanation, the ruling determined.
Officers searched Chun and brought him to a police station. Later, he was released without being charged. Wheeler then called a trooper at the casino and ordered officers to arrest Mills.
Wheeler claimed Mills was arrested because the Silver Spring man was involved in a “scam,” according to testimony from a trooper. Mills was searched, handcuffed and charged with theft through deception.
According to the ruling, the Attorney General’s Office disregarded the charge “in the interest of justice” on June 1, 2018.
Judge Finds Police Were Overzealous
Bartle stated in the August ruling that no information available to detectives gave probable cause for Mills or Chun to be arrested. Bartle also rejected the detectives’ claim to qualified immunity.
The 64-page ruling stated that mere suspicion of illegal activity does not suffice to establish probable cause.
The search warrants were unreasonable, according to the judge. Detective Sgts. Richard Wheeler and Carl Smallwood were found guilty of violating the men’s rights under the law.
Bartle pointed out that because an earlier ruling, from August 18, had found Smallwood, Wheeler and Moorehouse took the men into custody without probable cause, this made them liable for false imprisonment.
In the December 20 ruling, the judge stated that the searches of Mills and Chun in connection to their unlawful arrests were, therefore, violations of their Fourth Amendment rights.
In addition, the August ruling found that the troopers were guilty of violating the rights of the men through the unlawful seizure of their property.
The judge’s ruling didn’t specify any monetary compensation or arrangements between the NJ State Police and the two plaintiffs.