A Texas woman and her celebrity attorney, Gloria Allred, returned to New Orleans on Wednesday to accuse the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter of allowing a hotel security guard to rape the woman on Mardi Gras night last year.
They called a news conference in front of the Civil District Courthouse, where they had just filed a lawsuit naming the hotel, the security guard, his supervisor and the hotel’s president as defendants.
The rape allegation first came to light in November, when Allred and the woman publicly accused the New Orleans Police Department of disregarding her rape claim. The NOPD detective assigned to the case, Vernon Haynes, had recently been named along with four other Special Victims Section detectives in a report from New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office that accused them of dropping the ball on hundreds of reported sex crimes.
Police Cmdr. Paul Noel, who is leading a task force to review cases identified by Quatrevaux’s office as lacking documentation of a follow-up investigation, quickly pledged to add the woman’s case to the list, though it fell outside of the three-year period the IG reviewed.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Wednesday that the task force has finished its probe and forwarded the case to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office for review. Gamble said that’s the protocol, regardless of what the task force found. The security guard has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
“We anticipate that the case will be formally presented at a charging conference in the next few weeks,” Gamble said in a statement. A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing open cases.
The civil suit filed Wednesday accuses the hotel of hiring the alleged assailant despite a past criminal record. The woman, identified only as “LQL,” said she was raped after a team of hotel security guards ordered her husband out of their hotel room and forced him to get another room, citing a loud disturbance coming from the couple’s room.
She claims she later called downstairs, thinking her husband had accidentally taken her phone. A supervisor sent the security guard up to her room, and according to the lawsuit, he overpowered and “violently raped” her despite her screaming and attempting to fight back.
“I never want what happened to me to be endured by any other woman, and that is the main reason that I am going forward with this case,” the woman said, her hands trembling as she read from a prepared statement.
Allred said the attack left the woman bruised, with injuries to her “neck, arms, legs, back, thighs, and vaginal area.” The hotel linens were bloodied, the lawsuit states.
The guard reportedly told police the encounter was consensual. He could not be reached Wednesday.
In a statement, the hotel said it “does not agree with the plaintiff’s version of the facts.”
The hotel “has many policies and procedures in place to protect the interests of guests and patrons, and it intends to vigorously defend this case and its reputation. Care and concern for our guests is and remains Sonesta’s number one priority,” the statement read.
According to a story posted on nola.com in November, a supplemental police report by Haynes says the couple got into a heated argument that led to their forced separation that night. Haynes’ report also said the hotel room where the alleged rape took place did not appear to be disturbed or contain blood, and that a video seemed to conflict with the alleged victim’s initial statement that the guard barged into the room, the website reported.
Gamble said the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau has not finished reviewing whether Haynes properly investigated the case. An attorney for Haynes declined to comment.
The lawsuit paints a different picture, and it says the hotel fired the guard within days of the incident, which Allred said took place on Fat Tuesday last year. The firing wasn’t enough, said Allred, flanked by the woman and her husband.
She demanded an apology from the hotel, while the lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
According to Allred, the security guard started working at the hotel in September 2013 and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse battery a month before the alleged rape, receiving a suspended sentence.
He later pleaded guilty to a marijuana count, and then domestic abuse battery and a weapons possession charge. Those purported convictions could not immediately be verified.
“We’re just very, very outraged and shocked that this (guard) could be employed by the Royal Sonesta. How could this happen?” Allred asked.
The civil rights attorney, who frequently appears on national TV shows, hesitated when asked why hotel staff had split up the couple.
“Apparently there was some noise that at least security guards were using as a reason for them to come up,” Allred said. “No one alleges there was physical violence of any sort” between the couple.
“What the real reason was, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Randy Smith, an attorney for the hotel, declined to answer specifics in the lawsuit, including claims about the security guard being fired and the forced separation of the couple.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.