|Harrah’s casino in Las Vegas is being sued for negligence after the attempted arrest of a casino thief went wrong, resulting in the death of casino patron Heather Vitarelli two years ago.|
Lawyers for the victim’s adoptive parents, William and Henrietta Vitarelli, allege that the casino ignored its policy of “safety first” when confronting a suspected coin bucket thief. It is alleged that Harrah’s security guards left the culprit Stephen Mullen on the casino floor for 18 minutes after identifying him as a suspect, and that not enough guards were deployed to arrest him, leading to the fatal shooting.
'It's foreseeable that a criminal suspect may flee. It's foreseeable that a criminal suspect may pull a weapon. It's foreseeable that a criminal suspect may do any number of things,' prosecution lawyer Wayne Shaffer said last Wednesday at the first day of the trial.
Harrah's didn't bring in backup officers when the decision was made to arrest Mullen, Shaffer said. When two lone officers attempted to handcuff him, he tried to escape, firing two shots during the ensuing struggle. One of the shots killed Vitarelli, a Hawaiian tourist celebrating her 30th birthday. The other struck a security guard, who recovered from his injuries.
Harrah's attorney, Robert Foster, told jurors that it would have been illegal to immediately place Mullen in handcuffs and take him to a detention room for questioning.
The two officers were left alone with Mullen while their supervisor, Lt. Bobby Johnson, went to view surveillance videos to confirm his identity and see if they had enough evidence for an arrest, Foster said.
'You don't just slap handcuffs on people without having probable cause, but they (the plaintiffs) just want to skip that step,' Foster said.