Ex-ACLU official is suing casino and the Reno police
December 4, 2014
RENO — A former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union's Florida chapter has filed a racial profiling lawsuit against Reno police and a downtown casino after he was charged with trespassing for refusing to produce identification.
Ali Amir Abdul-Aziz claims security guards assaulted and held him for more than an hour at the Eldorado Casino Resort in September 2012 before confirming his company has an account there and he's a member of its executive club.
The African-American Muslim says he was wearing his favorite Pittsburgh Steelers jersey with his traditional Islamic prayer cap, sipping a Starbucks, eating gelato and enjoying the Steelers' game in the sports book when the trouble began.
Although Abdul-Aziz insisted he was "doing nothing wrong," security guards eventually ordered him to leave "and then brutally assaulted him while he was complying with their demands," his lawsuit states.
"The true reason for the treatment he received was based upon his race and his religion," according to the suit Reno lawyer Ian Silverberg filed on his behalf in U.S. District Court.
The trespassing charge eventually was dismissed, but the casino is defending its security guards and denies Abdul-Aziz was beaten or his rights violated.
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Lawyers for the Reno police say the responding officer had nothing to do with the arrest and that any complaint should be taken up with the casino.
Paul Georgeson, a Reno lawyer for the casino, declined comment. He wrote in court papers last week that Abdul-Aziz refused to provide identification "and started to become verbally combative."
Minutes later, he became "physically combative," was placed in handcuffs and escorted to the holding room, the document said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie Cook has scheduled a Dec. 15 status conference on the case.
Abdul-Aziz claims he was discriminated against in a "place of public accommodation," which includes inns, hotels and motels.
When first confronted by the guards, Abdul-Aziz said he asked if there was "any reasonable articulate suspicion to demand ID," then told them he was a member of the casino club and had a right to be there.
Next, he said he asked if he was the suspect in a criminal investigation and was told that he "looked like someone" they'd had trouble with before.
He responded that "it is not a crime to look like someone," the lawsuit said, then asked if there was "any complaint about a black Muslim man committing crimes in the Eldorado wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey?"
Abdul-Aziz said he was trying to leave when a guard jumped him from behind, forced him to the ground, handcuffed him and hauled him away. An hour later, a Reno police officer interrogated him for about 10 minutes before releasing him and calling paramedics, the suit said.
Abdul-Aziz said he was freed because the officer allowed him to telephone the hotel-casino's front desk to confirm his identity.
With the officer listening on his cellphone speaker, the desk supervisor immediately recognized him, "greeted him enthusiastically and inquired if he would be checking into the Eldorado that evening," the suit said.
The supervisor offered to come to the cell and identify him, but the officer refused and handed him the trespassing citation signed by security, according to the lawsuit. The suit argues that instead of citing him, the officer should have investigated further to establish he "was not a trespasser, but was an existing customer with a corporate account."
Reno City Attorney Karl Hall declined comment. His office said in court filings Nov. 17 the officer had no obligation to investigate further.
"There is no constitutional right to have your witness statement believed over another witness statement," the city said. It said that Abdul-Aziz' claim he wrongfully was arrested and wasn't free to leave "is ironic considering that this whole incident began because (he) refused to leave when requested to do so by the Eldorado security."