Illegal detention?

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last week that a Las Vegas gambler can amend his civil complaint, charging two state Gaming Control Board agents with violating his constitutional rights when he was detained nine years ago at the Imperial Palace.

The high court said Clark County District Judge Lee Gates erred when he refused to allow James Grosjean’s lawsuit to name agents Anthony Vincent and Phillip Pedote as defendants.

Judge Gates had contended the agents were performing their jobs and were therefore immune from lawsuits.

But the justices now rule, quite properly, that such immunity “does not apply to law enforcement agents who detain a suspect beyond what is necessary” to resolve suspicions of criminal activity.

Mr. Grosjean, well-known in professional gambling circles, is the author of “Beyond Counting,” a how-to manual on ways to beat the casinos. Like other so-called “advantage” gamblers, he has touted the ability to legally increase players’ odds of winning at blackjack and other games of chance by taking advantage of a dealer’s mistakes or by counting cards.

In April 2000, Mr. Grosjean was detained, handcuffed and searched by Imperial Palace security guards at the request of state Gaming Control agents.

Mr. Grosjean alleges that after a third gaming agent said he should be released because he was not the suspect being sought, Mr. Pedote and Mr. Vincent posed as Imperial Palace employees and held him for another 20 minutes, going through his pockets.

The search turned up a large sum of money, gambling chips and two different identifications, according to court records.

“Our review of relevant authority leads us to the conclusion that, by allegedly detaining Grosjean without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, agents Vincent and Pedote may have violated a clearly established rule: an agent’s act of detaining a person violates the Fourth Amendment’s mandate against unreasonable seizures if it furthers no governmental interest,” the Supreme Court said in its 6-0 ruling.

Good. The concept that law enforcement officials are immune from lawsuits is designed merely to avoid their being hamstrung by frivolous legal filings for doing things that are clearly within their powers. Gaming enforcement agents are supposed to be neutral arbiters in such disputes, intervening only until it’s determined whether one party has broken the law.

If these agents behaved as Mr. Grosjean alleges, the agents went well beyond that, and their conduct is subject to review by judge and jury.

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