Eviction of East Ridge motel residents violated constitutional rights, attorney says

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Residents and officers stand outside the Budgetel on Wednesday. After being told to leave the building by early Wednesday morning, many residents of the Budgetel Inn and Suites in East Ridge begin packing their belongings. The building is said to be shut down due to high crime.

A Chattanooga attorney filed a motion Monday in Hamilton County Criminal Court claiming last week's shutdown of the Budgetel Inn in East Ridge violated former residents' federal and state constitutional rights.

"The order of the court in this case violated procedural due process of the law as guaranteed to the innocent residents of the Budgetel," the motion signed Sunday by attorney Charles G. Wright, stated. "In crafting and executing said temporary injunction/restraining order no efforts were made to separate the residents who had committed law violations alleged in the petition from those who were innocent from such violations."

At least 73 residents removed when the motel closed were listed in the motion, with more "calling in and adding their names" to it, according to Wright's paralegal, Wade Wright.

In addition to claiming the closure violated their constitutional rights, former residents also claim to have lost money already paid toward their stays, while others allege to have lost their jobs because of the disruption, according to Wright.

"Families are staying wherever they can find to lay their head," Wright said in an email to the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday.

The shutdown was the subject of a 130-page nuisance abatement petition presented to the court by Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp, in efforts to eradicate the crime at the motel. The order was approved by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson and executed on the morning of Nov. 16.

According to the petition, signed Nov. 14 by Wamp, the Budgetel Inn has "been a haven for drug use, drug overdoses, drug distribution, used as a hideout for out-of-state wanted fugitives, aggravated assaults, domestic assaults, simple assaults, and used as a residence by registered and known sex offenders, with children living on the premises, disorderly conduct and other criminal activities."

In a statement issued the morning of the Budgetel eviction, Wamp highlighted that the safety of the children living at the hotel was of the utmost importance for the District Attorney's Office.

"Approximately three dozen children also reside at the Budgetel Inn," she said in a statement. "While the office of the District Attorney, and the community as a whole, want to ensure that children have a safe place to live, the Budgetel provides the opposite environment.

"Currently, there are four known sex offenders living at the Budgetel, three of which have been convicted of violent crimes against children. This is unacceptable."

On Nov. 16 "police officers enforced the order ... and forced all residents at Budgetel Inn and Suites to immediately abandon their apartments or they would be arrested and taken to jail," the motion stated recapping the eviction.

Residents were given four-hours notice at 7 a.m., and were told to leave the hotel, off Interstate 75 on Mack Smith Road, by law enforcement officials.

"The persons who are asking to intervene, hope to have a voice in what happens in the case in Hamilton County Criminal Court," Wright said in an email.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's office declined to comment, citing "current litigation."

A hearing on the motel matter, which was scheduled for Monday morning before Judge Patterson, was rescheduled to Dec. 5.

"The hearing would have been a hearing to validate or not validate the present ex-parte order which included dispossession of all tenants from their homes regardless of their participation in any public nuisance," Wright said.

(READ MORE: Why a Hamilton County school board member accused of indecent exposure could have his charges dismissed)

Echoing Wright's motion, attorney Robin Flores filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief for the "violation of my clients constitutional rights," Flores said in a text message Monday to the Times Free Press.

In response to Flores' lawsuit, Wamp said she is honored to be sued by him.

"Since there is now pending litigation, my office will not comment on the case itself," Wamp said via text Monday to the Times Free Press. "However I will say that you are not a true public servant until you have been sued by Robin Flores. I consider it a badge of honor that the same attorney who frequently sues police officers, has now turned his attention to me."

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