by Heather M Eichenbaum Esq
Amusement parks, like most other businesses open to the public, host a wide array of visitors. Some of those visitors, although “invited,” may be unsavory.
In addition to invited guests, parks also face the possibility of having to address individuals who are either uninvited or who have worn out their welcome. Confronting these individuals generally involves park security personnel.
Park security must follow local laws regarding discrimination, wrongful detention and false arrest. Individuals may not be discriminated against on the basis of race, age, gender, nationality or religion. Moreover, although security may be inclined to detain individuals who have, or are believed to have, committed a crime within the park, special attention must be paid to avoid violating a person’s civil rights when detention is exercised.
When a guest is detained, local law enforcement should be called immediately. Under no circumstances other than imminent threat of life should security personnel be authorised to handcuff (or otherwise physically restrain) or search a patron. Once law enforcement arrives, it must be allowed to take over the investigation and make decisions regarding further detention or arrest of the patron.
Although we generally think of only police as being able to “arrest” someone, in many jurisdictions, “arrest” is defined as no more than detaining someone against his or her will. Thus, falsely accusing and detaining a patron – or accusing them without sufficient evidence – may well result in a lawsuit against the park. Of course, that lawsuit will be more compelling if the patron was man-handled or searched in the process.
Finally, whether to allow security personnel to be armed is a decision that must take into account both local law and the park’s best interests. Even if firearms are allowed in your venue or locale, serious consideration should be given to the implications and the “worst case scenario” if you allow security personnel to carry weapons. A concealed firearm can be dislodged or even discharged if jarred. Overzealous, or even well-intentioned, security personnel might choose to “pull” the weapon to address a problem guest, thereby escalating the situation. In either scenario, an innocent bystander could become a victim; clearly a significant risk and no doubt a public relations nightmare for any park.
In short, an unruly patron should almost always simply be escorted from the park without physical contact. Where contact is necessary to ensure the safety of park employees and/or other guests, the ejection it should be accomplished quickly and professionally, without any excessive force. Where a patron must be detained and law enforcement called, step back and let those best trained take over. And, as with all incidents, don’t rely on others to document the incident – be sure a thorough incident report and witness statements are secured to combat any lawsuit that might result from the incident.
Heather Eichenbaum (pictured) is an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, located in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey and Florida. Clients include Six Flags, Steel Pier, Gillian’s Wonderland, Holiday World and Reithoffer Shows. If you have a question for a future column, Heather can be reached at +1 215-241-8856 or firstname.lastname@example.org