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14 February 2019, Embassy Suites Hotel, Des Moines, Iowa, settles rape case, security negligence obvious March 1, 2019
The Chicago Tribune reported on 14 February 2019 that hotel companies Atrium TRS III (Atrium Hospitality) and Hammons Inc settled out of court a rape case from April 2014 that occurred in their Embassy Suites Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa.
According to Business Wire, the hotel was originally a John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts property. It was later taken over by Atrium Hospitality, but legal problems have plagued property ownership and management issues, says the Springfield Business Journal.
Atrium Hospitality’s website says it is a full spectrum hotel company that engages in everything from hotel design, ownership, management, hospitality accounting, and other hotel consulting services. It has 82 properties in 29 states and works with hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, and InterContinental.
The plaintiff’s attorneys brought effective pressure to bear on Hammons and Atrium by demonstrating a degree of security related negligence that forced a settlement just before the victim testified. The Omaha World Herald says the plaintiffs claimed, “negligence, recklessness and outrageous conduct on the part of the hotel operators and owners.” The law firms that represented the victim are Villari, Brandes, and Giannone, P.C, and the Hanamirian Firm.
In filing the lawsuit in 2015 (see the online version here), the victim’s attorneys asserted, “Each defendant owed a special duty of care to her, including a duty to provide for and assure her safety and security while at the hotel. To not expose her to burglary, assaults or attacks by others…and to not assist others in burglarizing, assaulting or attacking her,” reported the Des Moines Register.
Police investigators reviewed hotel CCTV and conducted interviews to gather the facts of the case, which were:
- The victim, a female from New Jersey, was a guest in the hotel while on a business trip.
- Christopher Edward LaPointe, from New York, also a guest at the hotel, made advances toward the woman at the hotel restaurant/bar and in the hotel elevator multiple times over several days, and she rebuffed his advances. He was allegedly intoxicated each time he approached the woman in question.
- On the night of 10 April 2014, LaPointe lied to the front desk attendant, saying he was locked out of his room, and he secured a key to the victim’s room on the seventh floor. The attendant did not ask for LaPointe’s identification to prove he was registered to the room in question.
- LaPointe, a “Diamond level” Hilton Honors Club member, was familiar to hotel staff, which likely disarmed them.
- LaPointe failed to gain entry to the victim’s room because she had engaged the safety latch on her door.
- The hotel’s computer system demonstrated that someone made repeated attempts to enter the victim’s room.
- LaPointe then convinced hotel maintenance staff to circumvent the safety latch, telling them he and his girlfriend had an argument, and he was locked out of their room despite having a room key.
- After opening the door for LaPointe, the hotel maintenance staffer left, and LaPointe made entry into the victim’s room and sexually assaulted her for several hours.
- The victim passed out, and the next day, she reported the crime to hotel management (who was not readily available), Hilton Worldwide headquarters (Embassy Suites is a Hilton brand), and the police. Legal documents reference Hilton Worldwide alerting the Embassy Suites manager to the rape.
- LaPointe was eventually apprehended, and, says Des Moines news station KCCI, “[He] pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and third-degree burglary in December 2014.”
- The victim’s lawyer, Peter Villari, asserted his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which required at least six months of therapy, and that the trauma caused her to lose her job as an executive salesperson.
The lawsuit originally named Embassy Suites and Hilton Worldwide as defendants alongside Atrium TRS III and Hammons Inc., but they were eventually removed from the suit.
These types of cases are not rare. Travel and Leisure’s Cailey Rizzo wrote an article on a disturbing pattern of scenarios like the one at the Des Moines Embassy Suites where hotel staffs have, with regularity, unwittingly enabled sexual assaults. The article is here: “Hotel safety: 7 rape cases in 7 years after front desks give away room keys,” Travel and Leisure via Yahoo, 29 March 2017. Ms. Rizzo clearly demonstrates this is a reasonably foreseeable type of hotel violence.
Additionally, Muir Analytics has reported on sexual assaults at hotels and resorts before as well: here, regarding resorts in Jamaica, and here, regarding a rape at a hotel in Boston. Aside from the human costs, the latter attack cost the hotel $6.6 million via a devastating lawsuit.
There are seven takeaways here. First, in the Des Moines Embassy Suites case, hotel staff clearly showed negligence in providing the perpetrator access to the victim’s room. If it had not been for this carelessness, the rape would not have happened in the manner and location that it did, and perhaps not at all.
Second, hotel staff should follow strict procedures regarding proof of identification and room access, even with guests who are points members. Hotels can establish effective ID request etiquette and protocols that do not offend guests who need access to their rooms while simultaneously providing for the safety and security of the rest of their clientele.
Third, hotel door monitoring technology is useless if, a) there is no one manning it, and, b) no one acts on the warnings it produces.
Fourth, hallway CCTV monitoring could have picked up the attacker’s odd activity at the victim’s door, which might have prevented the rape.
Fifth, to prevent sexual assaults and other types of hotel violence – and, by default, the lawsuits that follow – hotel employees should be trained regularly in hotel violence awareness in order to justify the criticality of following strict ID room access procedures and other safety and security protocols. The attacker in this case penetrated three layers of security, which suggests security was not a priority at this hotel. Hotel violence awareness comes from hotel threat intelligence such as violence statistics and case studies.
Sixth, while hotel threat intelligence and training employees can be considered a cost burden to hotels, the cost of negligence can be in the multi-millions of dollars as the Boston case shows. Hotels can come up with cost effective means of applying these security methods without breaking the bank.
Finally, hotels should apply such security measures not just to protect their earnings and brand reputation, but also to protect the sanctity and dignity of human life per their duty of care as innkeepers. Most hotels proudly tout guest safety and security as their number one priority, and no one in the hospitality industry wants harm to come to their guests, but against a backdrop of sexual assaults, high order criminal violence, and terrorism, the industry could do more to increase protection.
Sources and further reading:
“Iowa hotel settles with woman who was raped after front desk clerk gave attacker room key, maintenance undid latch,” Chicago Tribune, 14 February 2019.
“Hotel safety: 7 rape cases in 7 years after front desks give away room keys,” Yahoo via Travel and Leisure, 29 March 2017.
“New decision keeps hotel rapist behind bars, officials say,” KCCI, 6 July 2016.
“JQH hires new University Plaza GM; Henley heads to rival,” Springfield Business Journal, 2 June 2016.
“Woman raped in Des Moines hotel sues owners, alleges that staffers gave her room key to man who assaulted her,” Omaha World Herald, 2 January 2016.
“Lawsuit: Embassy Suites let attacker into woman’s room,” Des Moines Register, 31 December 2015.
“JQH’s Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown gains several top accolades,” Business Wire, 2 July 2015.
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