An Oneida motel ordered closed under a nuisance abatement will remain closed until at least August.
Eighth Judicial District Chancellor Elizabeth Asbury ruled earlier this month that a temporary injunction ordering the Oneida Family Motel closed will remain in effect until a hearing in August. Asbury is presiding over the case for Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton, who issued the original injunction.
That injunction was issued at the behest of District Attorney General Jared Effler following an investigation by Oneida Police Department. On April 18, authorities from multiple state and local jurisdictions swarmed the motel, evicting its tenants and ordering it to cease operation. The motel had come under scrutiny following numerous police investigations at the facility, which had led to arrests related to drug trafficking, assault and sex crimes, among others.
Knoxville attorney James A.H. Bell is representing the motel’s owners, Chris and Nada Yousef, who argued that they were not granted a hearing within five days of the motel’s closure, as mandated by state law.
However, Asbury rejected a motion by the Yousefs to dismiss the case against the motel based on that merit, and the case will move forward to a hearing on Aug. 14-15. At that point, the Yousefs’ attorney will have the opportunity to argue that the motel is not a public nuisance, or that it can take steps to correct the issues that exist.
Formerly Tobe’s Motel, the Oneida Family Motel was purchased by Yousef, who lives in the Knoxville area, in 2012. Since that point, law enforcement presence at the motel has been on the increase in response to criminal complaints. An Independent Herald investigative report in February 2017 found that police had visited the motel more than 170 times during the 2016 calendar year.
In his complaint to the court, seeking to have the motel declared a public nuisance, Effler pointed the frequency of police at the motel, along with other incidents — including raw sewage being pumped into a storm drain behind the restaurant that is located on the motel’s premises and a large pile of discarded mattresses illegally disposed of behind the facility.
No one knows exactly how many long-term residents of the motel were displaced by its closure. Oneida Chief of Police Darryl Laxton told the Independent Herald the day of its closure that it was not the motel’s semi-permanent residents who were causing most of the problems.
“In reality, I don’t think the long-term residents here are the ones causing the problems,” he said. “It’s the fly-by-night guys that run up a big bill and then leave. I think (the residents) are the victims in this, just like the community as a whole is a victim in this.”
Instead, authorities charge, the motel’s owners have not made an effort to clean up the criminal activity that takes place at the motel.
The Oneida Family Motel closure is the second lodging facility in the Eighth Judicial District to be closed under the state’s nuisance abatement law since Effler took office in 2014. A motel in Tazewell remains closed as the case works through the court system. Assistant D.A. Matt McClung, who accompanied Effler at the court hearing earlier this month, has spearheaded those cases.