Five bystanders agree to settlement in Harrah's Laughlin brawl case

A confidential damages settlement was reached Friday with five bystanders who were caught up in the deadly 2002 brawl between rival motorcycle gangs at Harrah's Laughlin casino.

A District Court jury on Wednesday found Harrah's Laughlin liable for the stress and injuries the five plaintiffs suffered during the bloody altercation that left three gang members dead.

Attorney E. Brent Bryson, who represented the bystanders, said the settlement includes monetary damages, but he would not say how much.

Had the settlement not been reached, the jury would have had to decide how much to award the plaintiffs.

Attorneys for Harrah's Laughlin could not be reached for comment.

"We're happy that this brings a conclusion to a very long and troubled period in my clients' lives," said Bryson, who has scheduled a news conference with his clients on Monday to discuss the case.

On Thursday, Bryson said he believed this is the first time the Laughlin casino, which is owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc., has been held responsible for failing to protect bystanders.

Phil Sindlinger, who said he was one of the eight jurors, said the panel was deadlocked for most of its two hours of deliberations. In the end, he said, the vote was 6-2 for the plaintiffs.

Sindlinger, a junior high school teacher, said the jury determined the brawl was foreseeable, that Harrah's Laughlin should have known that when you allow rival gangs in the same room something bad is going to happen. Testimony showed that police and casino officials knew trouble was brewing, he said.

Sindlinger said he found that the plaintiffs' security expert, who testified the casino dropped the ball, was more credible than the defense's expert, who said the fight was unforeseeable.

The early-morning brawl broke out on April 27, 2002, between the Hells Angels and Mongols during the Laughlin River Run, an annual rally that attracts tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the Southern Nevada town. Two Hells Angels and one Mongol were killed in the disturbance

One of the plaintiffs, Michael Bower, was in the casino at about 2 a.m. when armed Hells Angels entered and "provoked a barbaric and ferocious melee" with the Mongols, Bryson said in court papers.

"Plaintiff was essentially caught in the crossfire, helpless and defenseless" and "was forced to dive off his gaming chair onto the floor to seek cover," Bryson wrote.

Bower is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Bryson said the casino altercation left his client with back injuries that required surgery and "severe mental and emotional trauma."

Two couples in the casino at the time, Steven and Kathy Fuller and Andrea and Dean Daniels, also had to run for cover when the brawl broke out, Bryson wrote. Both couples alleged in court papers that they were wrongly detained for some 10 hours, as police and hotel officials worked to restore order.