Enough is enough.
The Oneida Family Motel is a crime haven and a blight on this small town. If its owners are unwilling or unable to clean up the criminal activity that is harbored there, it’s time for the motel to be permanently closed.
It’s bad enough when the victims of crimes are adults. But an entirely new level of concern is prompted when the victims are children.
Last week, a Winfield man was arrested and charged with aggravated statutory rape after allegedly engaging in sexual activity with a teenage girl at the Oneida Family Motel (see story, page A1). It was the second sexual assault at the motel in a span of five days. The first, as the Independent Herald reported last week, involved a 49-year-old man forcing himself onto one of his neighbors at the motel. In the most recent incident, the perpetrator was a 40-year-old man. His victim was a 15-year-old girl.
The Oct. 10 incident was not the first time crimes at the motel have involved children. In February, a couple were arrested at the motel and charged with educational neglect because their three young children were not attending school. When law enforcement officers showed up, armed with warrants, they found drugs inside the motel room, where the children were living in what officers described as “very poor conditions.” An 11-year-old boy told authorities he had not been in school since he was in fourth grade, and that he had peed in a cup for his father so that the man could pass a drug screen. The other children, ages eight and seven, told cops they had never been to school.
These are not isolated incidents. The Oneida Family Motel has become a trouble spot for the town’s police officers, who are routinely called upon to respond to reports of criminal activity at the motel. Drugs are often involved, and undercover drug agents have conducted drug buys at the motel on more than one occasion. Other calls involve theft, vandalism and assault. On occasion, EMS personnel have been called to treat overdose victims. Police were once summoned to investigate a possible meth lab inside one of the motel rooms. Last week, authorities arrested a disabled man who used a motorized wheelchair to injure three people and run down a dog in the motel parking lot.
To be clear, no one is accusing the motel’s owners or staff of engaging in unlawful activities. And the crimes that are being perpetrated at the motel could just as easily happen anywhere — do happen elsewhere in Scott County, in fact.
Yet, criminal activity at the motel is especially high, and the perception is that there has been no concerted effort on the part of its owners to clean it up. This is both a detriment to the town’s image and a safety hazard. It has a Better Business Bureau rating of C- , presumably because it failed to respond to a complaint that was filed in May 2016. That complaint alleged that at least 10 rooms had been infested with bedbugs and that there was an outbreak of lice in seven rooms.
Tennessee, like other states, has a nuisance abatement law. A business can be ordered closed if it can be established in a trial court that the business is a nuisance.
A court-ordered closure of a motel in Tennessee under the state’s nuisance law would not be unprecedented. In 2014, the Governor’s Inn & Suites in Memphis was ordered closed because it allegedly allowed or promoted drug trafficking by employees or customers. A news report at the time stated that police had been called to the Governor’s Inn 175 times in less than a year on complaints of robbery, aggravated assault, drugs and theft.
An Independent Herald review of police logs in February revealed that Oneida Police Department officers had been called to the Oneida Family Motel 169 times during the 2016 calendar year.
The Memphis Police Department has more than 2,100 officers on staff. The Oneida Police Department has fewer than two dozen. Suffice to say, answering 169 calls in a year’s time would place a bigger drain on OPD’s resources than answering 175 calls in a year’s time would place on MPD’s resources.
Most Scott Countians remember the old Tobe’s Motel with a sense of nostalgia. It was long an Oneida landmark, adorning postcards and standing proudly on the north end of town. It’s a shame that it has come to this.
But enough is enough.
• Agree? Disagree? Sound off at ihoneida.com.