An Independent Herald editorial on Oct. 19, 2017 stated, “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.”

Therefore, we applaud the actions of Oneida Police Department, District Attorney General Jared Effler and Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton to close the motel.

The forced closure of the motel on April 18 evoked a large response from members of the community, some of whom were in favor of the action and some of whom were opposed to it. The primary concern of the opposition was the welfare of the tenants misplaced by the motel’s closure. Several of the motel’s residents were children, and there was concern about where the parents of those children would turn for safe lodging.

Law enforcement did not turn a blind eye to the plight of the motel’s tenants. In the words of one officer who was on the scene Thursday, “not one person was turned out without an offer of help.” Pinnacle Resource Center executive director Ray Perry and his staff were immediately notified, and Perry said he spent multiple hours at the motel, counseling displaced residents on their options — which included, for some, an opportunity to stay at the homeless shelter.

As Oneida Chief of Police Darryl Laxton told the Independent Herald on Wednesday, many of the long-term residents of the motel “are the victims in this, just like the community as a whole is a victim in this.” 

Unfortunately, those victims are collateral damage of an action that had to be taken by local law enforcement authorities and the judicial system. For those who weren’t involved in illegal activities but stayed at the motel because it was their best option, it’s a heart-wrenching plight — heart-wrenching because they became homeless in the blink of an eye Wednesday morning, but even more heart-wrenching that the motel was seen as their best option in the first place.

Criminal activity was rampant at the motel, from drug trafficking to domestic violence to large fights to theft to sexual assaults. Throw in the alleged uncleanliness and unsanitary conditions of the facility, and it was hardly an atmosphere conducive towards raising a child.

As those concerned about the plight of the families who were turned out by Wednesday’s action considered what had happened, the concern turned to anger in some cases — anger towards police and towards the district attorney’s office. Perhaps, though, that anger should be directed towards the owner of the motel. According to authorities, Chris Yousef — a Dandridge, Tenn. man who purchased the motel in 2012 and owns other Scott County properties — did little to stop the criminal activity that was occurring at the establishment, and did even less to improve the living conditions at the facility. It’s heartbreaking to think of a child turned away from the place he knows as home.

In fact, police records paint a picture of a renegade business owner who thumbed his nose at both state law and local ordinances. In 2015, a Kentucky couple who were tenants of the motel were arrested by Oneida police after being caught taking discarded items from the motel and dumping them along Bear Creek Road on the north side of town. In 2017, an Oneida Police Department investigator recorded raw sewage being pumped from the motel into a storm drain near the Mexican restaurant adjacent to the facility. And when the motel was closed last week, there was a pile of discarded mattresses and other bedding — measured by Effler in his petition as 20 feet by 20 feet — behind the structure. “Disposal of such items in this manner is a violation of municipal code, is unsightly, and creates a health and fire risk,” Effler wrote.

It’s heartbreaking to think of a child being turned away from the place he knows as home. But it’s equally heartbreaking — perhaps more-so — to think of a child living in a place so ridden by crime that his safety could be in jeopardy. And it’s disappointing that the living conditions at the Oneida Family Motel were allowed to reach such a low point, but that isn’t the fault of the police or the judicial system.

On the one hand, it’s sad that it came to this, because Tobe’s Motel & Restaurant was once such a stately landmark and gathering place, a source of pride for the local community. On the other hand, that was then and this is now, and the community deserves better than what Oneida Family Motel has become.

Perhaps that just a lengthy way of saying what Effler said more succinctly in his petition for an abatement of nuisance: “(The police investigation) has shown an open atmosphere for illegal activity that puts the community in danger as a result of the Oneida Family Hotel’s existence.”

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