(CN) – The bankruptcy of Caesar’s casino does not entitle Atlantic City police to stay claims that they assaulted a topless woman trying to record them there, a federal judge ruled.
Janine Costantino says security guards escorted her brother and brother-in-law out of Dusk, a nightclub inside the Caesar’s hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J., on July 21, 2012.
With the officers allegedly beginning to “manhandle” and assault her relatives in an elevator leading to the casino level, Costantino took out her cellphone and hit record.
Last week’s ruling does not say when Constantino’s top came off, only that her breasts were exposed as Atlantic City Police Officer Sterling Wheaten handcuffed her on the casino floor, allegedly stating: “now you are going to jail, you f—— b—-.” (Redaction in original.)
Constantino says she was processed at the police station when Wheaten admitted to having “taken care of” her cellphone, which she never recovered.
Indeed, although Costantino was suffering from injuries while incarcerated, she was denied medical attention, the complaint alleges.
Costantino says Wheaten and other police officers prepared false statements so as to charge her with several felony offenses, all of which were eventually dropped.
She later sued the city, Dusk, and Caesar’s Entertainment Corp. in Camden, alleging excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.
After Caesar’s filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy in Illinois on Jan. 15, 2015, however, all actions against the casino were automatically stayed.
With Caesar’s administratively terminated from Constantino’s case on Jan. 26, Atlantic City asked that the entire case be stayed pending Caesar’s bankruptcy.
Costantino steadfastly denies that Caesar’s has any material role in the case, and had even agreed to dismiss Caesar’s – with no objection from Dusk – before it filed for bankruptcy.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider denied the city’s request Tuesday, finding that a stay would unduly prejudice and disadvantage Costantino.
“Plaintiff will be prejudiced by a stay because the passage of time creates a risk that relevant witnesses will scatter or disappear,” Schneider wrote. “In addition, discovery has revealed that most if not all of Atlantic City’s relevant documents, including its internal affairs files, are not computerized. Atlantic City’s documents, therefore, are at risk of being lost.”
Costantino’s interest in having the jury promptly hear her case substantially outweighs the city’s right to pursue cross-claims against Caesar’s, according to the ruling.
“The public has a paramount interest in assuring that its citizens’ constitutional rights are protected,” Schneider wrote. “If abuses exist, Atlantic City and its officers should be held accountable.”
The judge denied that Caesar’s has a central role because it may have destroyed evidence.
“Atlantic City overstates the relative importance of the alleged spoliation of plaintiff’s phone,” Schneider wrote. “Important? Yes. Dispositive? No. Central? Absolutely not.”
The judge later added: “Atlantic City argues the ‘cell phone issue’ may ‘inflame’ the jury. Aside from this being pure conjecture, Atlantic City misses the mark. The trial will focus on excessive force and false arrest issues.”
All factors weigh in favor of denying the city’s request for a stay, the ruling states.
“There is no justifiable reason to stay the case for an indefinite time while the Caesar’s bankruptcy sorts itself out,” Schneider wrote. “This is especially true when Atlantic City’s cross-claim against Caesar’s is easily severed from the case with no material prejudice to Atlantic City.”
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