PROVIDENCE, RI – The ACLU of Rhode Island today sued the RI
State Police (RISP) for abusing their power by retaliating against Marissa
Lacoste, 25, a Warwick resident who declined to serve as an informant for the
agency in an ongoing criminal investigation. Specifically, according to the
lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI cooperating attorney James
W. Musgrave, RISP relied on a dubious state law to bar Lacoste from continuing
to work as a cocktail waitress at Twin River Casino in Lincoln when she bowed
out of assisting RISP as an informant.
In January 2017, Lacoste was leaving work when two RISP
detectives approached her car. In response to their demand that she “hand over
the weed,” Ms. Lacoste produced a bag with less than one ounce of marijuana.
Under RI law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is not a crime.
Despite Lacoste having committed no criminal offense, the detectives suggested
that she was in serious trouble and could go to jail, and demanded that she
accompany them to the Lincoln Woods Barracks. She complied, and while
there, they told her that if she didn’t assist them with an ongoing
investigation at the Casino, they could cause her to lose her job.
In February, after cooperating with RISP for a period of
time, Lacoste indicated that she was no longer willing to assist. Weeks later,
she was issued a civil summons for her January possession of marijuana, and she
further learned that RISP had requested, unsuccessfully, that the Department of
Business Regulation revoke her “Service Employee” license, a permit required
for those who work in the state’s gaming facilities.
Thereafter, Lacoste and a representative of her union met
with her employer who informed her that the civil citation she received would
not affect her employment. However, 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. Since that time, RISP has
repeatedly denied her requests for an opportunity to be heard regarding her
exclusion from the Casino.
Today’s lawsuit challenges the statute that RISP relied upon
to permanently exclude her from the Casino. Specifically, that law allows RISP
to permanently eject or exclude persons from the Casino if they have “allegedly
violated any criminal law, or when the . . . casino gaming unit determines that
the person’s conduct or reputation is such that his or her presence within the
gaming facility may compromise the honesty and integrity casino gaming
activities…” The lawsuit argues that this statute is unconstitutionally vague
and invites arbitrary enforcement, and denies due process to affected
individuals by failing to provide them any opportunity to either be heard
before being excluded or to appeal an exclusion decision. The lawsuit also
argues that RISP’s actions against Lacoste constituted an “abuse of process” by
seeking to revoke her DBR license “for an ulterior and wrongful purpose.”
Plaintiff Marissa Lacoste said today: “I’ve always worked
hard. I’ve always kept to myself at work and tried to do the right thing. I’ve
heard about things like this happening to other people, and I would
automatically think ‘that could never happen to me.’ Well it did, I was never
prepared to be used and deceived by the authorities put in place to protect
Attorney Musgrave added: “This lawsuit involves the most
essential requirement of due process - an opportunity to be heard.
The State Police Gaming Enforcement Unit has deprived my client and
untold others of their liberty without any hearing whatsoever. 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.”
Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director, said: “The
coercive practices exercised by the State Police against Ms. Lacoste are deeply
troubling. 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.”
Other than providing the quote above, Lacoste has indicated
she does not wish to be interviewed about the case at this time.