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Is casino crime spiking?

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published March 13. 2013 4:00AM

When the hotel staff at the Grand Pequot Towers at Foxwoods Resort Casino found a 36-year-old woman unresponsive in her room March 2, they sounded an alarm.

The woman was subsequently taken by ambulance to The William W. Backus Hospital, where she died two days later.

Five days after the woman was found in her hotel room, the medical examiner ruled her death accidental, by way of an overdose of opiates and other drugs.

State police never learned of the incident, though, until the medical examiner called them with a question. And on March 7, the day of her autopsy, state police logged this report of the incident: "Due to the suspicious nature of (her) death, an investigation is ongoing."

State Police Lt. Paul Vance said Tuesday, when I asked about the incident, that the investigation is complete and it reached the same conclusion as the medical examiner, that the death was accidental.

Vance called the police investigation "late and after the fact" as a result of a breakdown in protocol that should have triggered notice to state police when the woman was first found.

"Security responded and tribal police responded, but they neglected to contact state police," Vance said. "When informed by the Chief State Medical Examiner, we initiated an investigation."

Mashantucket Pequot Police Chief William Dittman acknowledged the breakdown in protocol in not informing state police, when I asked about it, saying a dispatcher failed to make that call.

But he said the miscommunication, which has been addressed, is an exception to a system in which state and tribal police usually work in tandem.

"Protocol was not followed," said Dittman, noting that tribal police did not learn that the unconscious woman taken out of her room eventually died, until days later, after the medical examiner notified state police.

He said tribal police checked the hotel room after the woman was taken to the hospital, before it was returned to service, and found no indicators of a crime.

The "breakdown" in police notification protocol occurred as the General Assembly is being asked to consider withdrawing some state police coverage at the casinos, for which the state is reimbursed, while allowing tribal police new authority to arrest non-Indians.

Some eastern Connecticut lawmakers, including Reps. Ed Jutila of East Lyme, Steve Mikutel of Griswold, Linda Orange of Colchester and Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague, all voted yes on Gov. Dannel Malloy's initiative to reduce the number of state police at the casinos, when it came before the Public Safety and Security Committee, the day of the autopsy of the woman found in the casino hotel room.

It is interesting that, as the measure to relinquish some casino policing to tribal authorities moves forward, we are learning of much more crime at the casinos.

Some tribal officials wonder if some in the state police are behind the increased level of crime reporting, given that the state police union has taken a public position against the governor's plan.

Indeed, just recently we've learned about an attempted rape outside the Mohegan Sun and a serious assault and attempted robbery on the 19th floor of the Mohegan Sun hotel, in which the victim was hit in the head with a handgun.

If the political machinations in Hartford are behind the new inclination toward disclosure, I say keep it coming.

I believe it's probably true that, were it not for the maneuvering in Hartford over casino police coverage, we would not have learned that state police were never called when a woman was found unconscious in her casino hotel room, investigating only after the fact.

Maybe even some lawmakers are paying attention.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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