Hamilton County judge to inspect closed East Ridge motel before deciding its fate

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / District Attorney Coty Wamp speaks in the courtroom at the hearing involving the closure of the Budgetel Inn in East Ridge. The hearing took place before Judge Boyd Patterson on Monday.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson – who signed the temporary order that shut down the Budgetel Inn in East Ridge, displacing hundreds of people – said he is going to inspect the motel to learn what led to the request to close it.

"How we got here is kind of important, because I'm interested in moving forward," Patterson said at a Monday hearing before dozens of people who were living there. "I'm interested in how we got here and interested in moving forward."

Patterson said that should the motel's doors be able to open, Amish Patel, chief executive officer of JDH Developers -- who owns the motel -- has to abide by city codes and repair any structural damages reported.

Hamilton County District Attorney General Coty Wamp, whose office cited rampant crime in seeking the closure on Nov. 14, requested Monday that the temporary closure order be extended or, preferably, made permanent.

In response, Chattanooga attorney Christopher Clem, who represents the hotel, asked for relief.

"The statute allows the owner a pathway back," Clem said. "This owner is here today and is willing to do whatever it takes to get this establishment back open again."

Clem further asked for access to the premises, which the Patels have not had since Nov. 16.

"We need access to walk through with our building codes person and with our contractors to get estimates about what repairs need to be made and what timeframe to do it in," Clem said.

Before issuing a decision, Patterson said he would do a walk-through of the Budgetel on Friday afternoon and announce a decision at a hearing Dec. 12.

Jean Bartley, communications records specialist for Hamilton County 911, testified during the hearing that there have been over 2,000 calls made to the center for the Budgetel address at 1410 Mack Smith Road since January 2019.

During cross-examination, Clem asked Bartley to explain the nature of some of the calls, to which she said that some involved reporting a vehicle being towed, or reporting a suspicious vehicle in the area, or emergency services call -- such as difficulty breathing -- and said the calls were not necessarily made by residents of the motel.

"You're not saying that all 2,000 of these calls are disturbance to the peace or a nuisance call," Clem said.

"No sir," Bartley said.

East Ridge Assistant Police Chief Josh Creel testified about the volume of the nuisance calls as well. He said an estimated 35% of calls made to hotel or motel properties in East Ridge were about the Budgetel.

Creel also said the residents logged in the management books did not amount to 700.

"Do you have any reason to believe that there were 700 people staying at the Budgetel?" Wamp asked.

"No" Creel said, adding that the number of registered guests according to the logs was closer to 400.

When Clem asked Creel why he failed to give residents at least 24 hours before vacating, Creel said he was just doing his job.

"I was just serving the order," Creel said.

East Ridge Building and Code Enforcement Officer Torrey Holder also testified at Monday's hearing, stating that she found more than 20 violations at the property in an October inspection and then found two violations nine days prior to the eviction.

"The biggest thing would be the living conditions overall," Holder said.

When cross-examined by Clem why was there such a large discrepancy with the October findings and the November violations, Holder said she was not inspecting the whole hotel in November.

Patterson also said he would not be able to make a ruling for two motions to intervene filed by former District Attorney Neal Pinkston on behalf of two residents, and by attorney Charles G. Wright, on behalf of more than 73 residents, seeking to regain access to the motel and retrieve their personal property and claiming the eviction violated constitutional rights.

"They have all their baby clothes, ultrasound photos still in there," Pinkston told the Chattanooga Times Free Press before the hearing. "This is prideful stuff for a mom-to-be. They just want their belongings back."

Tyler Morris, a former Budgetel guest, said he wanted to know why the closure happened the way that it did.

"We're wanting to see the reason for evicting all of us," Morris told the Times Free Press before the hearing. "We want to know what the reason was and why she stands behind that."

Bryan Rogers, an elderly Budgetel guest who had been living at the motel with his family since March of this year, also wanted answers.

"My grandbabies were told by the teachers they weren't going to have a home by the next morning, so they knew first, before anyone called us and told us anything," Rogers said. "All three of my grandbabies broke down crying."

Rogers and his family are currently staying at the Super 8 in East Ridge.

"It's really upsetting," Rogers said. "I'm not worried about myself. I could sleep out in the cold, but my grandbabies, that's a different matter."

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.