That’s the choice Marissa Lacoste, a 25-year-old former cocktail waitress at Twin River Casino, had to make after she was found with less than an ounce of cannabis and subsequently asked to help State Police with an ongoing investigation at the casino in Lincoln. She chose the latter.
After Lacoste stopped cooperating with the police, Twin River told her she wasn’t allowed on the property any longer, per order of the State Police. So she’s suing RISP for selectively enforcing a law that allows the Gaming Enforcement Unit to “permanently exclude” people from the casino.
“The State Police Gaming Enforcement Unit has deprived my client and untold others of their liberty without any hearing whatsoever,” said her attorney James Musgrave. “They have barred my client from her place of employment. They have not given her any chance to appeal. This conduct is all the more troubling given that it appears to have been in retaliation for her having declined to serve as an informant. The Gaming Act was intended to empower the State Police to keep organized crime out of Twin River, not to prevent a waitress from coming to work because she got a traffic ticket.”
Lacoste was leaving work in January when two Rhode Island State Police detectives approached her car and demanded that she “hand over the weed,” according to the court filing and an ACLU press release.
She gave the officers less than an ounce of cannabis, which since 2015 is no longer a criminal offense in Rhode Island. But even so, they took her to the State Police barracks where they told her she could lose her job if she didn’t help with an ongoing investigation at Twin River, says the ACLU.
She initially cooperated with police. When she decided not to, true to their threat, Lacoste lost her job.
“Upon reporting to work for her next scheduled shift, Lacoste was stopped by Twin River security and told that she had been permanently excluded from the Casino by order of the State Police, effectively terminating her from her job,” according to the ACLU press release.
“The coercive practices exercised by the State Police against Ms. Lacoste are deeply troubling,” said ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown. “This raw abuse of police power to punish a person guilty of no crime should offend any fair-minded person. We are hopeful that a court will correct the injustice that has been done to her.”
Musgrave, Lacoste’s attorney, said many states with casinos have laws like Rhode Island’s that allow police to remove patrons from a casino who haven’t committed a crime. These laws, he said, can help keep card counters and organized crime figures away from gambling tables. But unlike Rhode Island, other states have an appeal process.
“Nevada has an administrative hearings board,” he said. “The agency excluding you has an obligation to explain why they are doing so.” In Rhode Island, “there is absolutely no vehicle that exists to challenge or appeal that decision,” he said. “This lawsuit involves the most essential requirement of due process – an opportunity to be heard.”
State Police also tried to revoke Lacoste’s license to serve food, according to the lawsuit.
RISP spokeswoman Laura Kirk said “the Rhode Island State Police has not been formally notified of any lawsuit filed by the ACLU and cannot comment on any matter that is or may become the subject of litigation. However, the Rhode Island State Police takes seriously any allegations against the agency and its members, and we will investigate thoroughly if and when any allegation is filed in this or any other matter.”
Twin River is not being sued, and according to the lawsuit, had no issues with Lacoste. “Twin River has indicated to Ms. Lacoste and her collective bargaining representatives that but for the Defendants’ ejection of Ms. Lacoste from the casino she would be able to continue her employment at Twin River,” according to the lawsuit.
Patti Doyle, a spokeswoman for Twin River, said the company does not comment on personnel matters. When asked if RISP have ever prior to this permanently excluded a Twin River employee, she said, “I would have to refer you to the State Police on that.” Kirk, the spokeswoman for the State Police, was asked the same question and declined to comment.
“I have requested that information from the State Police and they declined to provide it,” said Musgrave. “I assume it will be part of discovery.”
Lacoste is seeking “An award for compensatory damages, including, but not limited to, back pay and emotional distress … An award of punitive damages … An award of Plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and costs” and “Such other relief as this Court deems appropriate.”