A former manager of the Quality Inn & Suites hotel near Interstate 30 and Geyer Springs Road lived on the fourth floor, which was used exclusively for sex trafficking, and actively partook in and benefited from the illegal activity, according to allegations added Monday to a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit is the first in Arkansas seeking to hold a hospitality organization liable for human-trafficking activities. It was originally filed in September in Pulaski County Circuit Court, but on Nov. 25, attorneys for defendants Shri Jinasha LLC and two of its officers transferred it to federal court.
The suit also names as a defendant Seven Star Hotels Group Inc., which it identifies, along with Shri Jinasha, as a former franchisee and operator of the hotel at 6100 Mitchell Drive. According to property records, Shri Jinasha LLC purchased the hotel in 2011 and sold it to Seven Star Hotels Group in 2015. The 100-room, four-story hotel was purchased for $2.1 million in March by Aniary LLC, based in White Hall.
The plaintiff is a woman identified only as Jane Doe who says she was held against her will at the hotel from May through July of 2014 and forced to have sex with 10 to 12 men a day to financially benefit her captor, a “known” sex trafficker who she says took her there in May 2014.
On Monday, her attorneys amended the lawsuit to add the allegations against the former manager, Vijay Patel, who they say lived in North Little Rock at the time, and to include information about the woman’s experiences after they say she escaped her captor.
Patel couldn’t be reached for comment and didn’t have an attorney listed in court records.
The suit states that he benefited financially from the trafficking through the nightly room rental paid by Doe’s trafficker and for keeping rooms occupied for months by traffickers, and that he actively participated in the illegal activities “by directing his staff to not call the police or report suspicious activity occurring on the fourth floor.”
With permission from U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson, Doe’s attorneys filed a partially redacted amended complaint for public view and an unredacted version under seal.
The amended lawsuit “includes factual information that is not only sensitive but also may jeopardize unveiling the identity of Jane Doe, which could be life threatening,” attorneys Meredith Moore and Lauren Manatt said in asking for the confidentiality designation.
The plaintiff “was the victim of an extremely abusive sex trafficking operation with a violent trafficker controlling her every move from May through July 2014 at the Quality Inn and Suites,” Moore and Manatt wrote. “While [she] has since escaped from her captor, there still exists a very real danger of retaliation by him and other dangerous individuals involved in the trafficking business.”
In a text entry later Monday, Wilson limited the redactions to 2½ of the five paragraphs the attorneys asked to black out. He also denied a request from Michael Huckabay Jr. and Kathryn Knisley, attorneys for Shri Jinasha and its two officers, Rajni Patel and Lina Patel, to dismiss the case for failure to state a legitimate claim. Wilson said the dismissal is without prejudice, which allows it to be refiled later. He wrote, “It appears to me that discovery is needed to flesh out the issues raised in the motion.”
By amending the lawsuit to include Vijay Patel, who is identified as “a citizen of Arkansas,” the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the case no longer falls under federal jurisdiction and should be remanded back to state court.
In the Huckabay firm’s motion to dismiss, it said the lawsuit’s negligence claim has a three-year statute of limitations in Arkansas, which would have required the lawsuit to be filed by July 31, 2017. They also argued that a second claim, brought under an Arkansas statute allowing civil remedies for human trafficking, has a five-year statute of limitations, which would have required the lawsuit to be filed by July 31.
In describing the treatment and therapy that Jane Doe underwent after being “rescued in June 2014 by the local non-profit shelter,” the most recent version of the lawsuit asserts that she “was disabled and/or insane from July of 2014 through November of 2018. Therefore, [she] did not discover that Defendant Vijay Patel caused, was responsible for, or profited from the human trafficking until November, 2018.”
Under the Arkansas human-trafficking law, the suit states, the statute of limitations for filing a civil action doesn’t begin to run until a plaintiff discovers that a defendant caused, was responsible for, or profited from the trafficking.
The lawsuit alleges that Jane Doe was “physically beaten and choked multiple times per week by her trafficker. On numerous occasions, while she was being beaten, she screamed for her life with no response or help from hotel management or staff.”
During her time there, the suit alleges, “the entire fourth floor was used for human trafficking. Every room on the fourth floor was occupied by other adult and minor females who were being trafficked and abused just like [her]. … The noise level on the fourth floor was extremely high. Music played constantly and dozens of people occupied the floor, coming and going all hours of the day and night.”
The suit alleges that the hotel issued about 10 active key cards for the room that Doe was held in, and said the phones in all the rooms were disconnected, preventing anyone from calling for help. Employees ignored her, even when she was clearly injured or in danger, it asserts.
Immediately after the paragraph alleging that Vijay Patel participated in and benefited from the sex trafficking, two entire paragraphs in the publicly filed document are blacked out.
The attorneys wrote that because of the physical and mental abuse that Jane Doe suffered at the hands of traffickers, she “suffered extreme mental distress, which manifested itself in her inability to accomplish tasks central to daily life, such as bathing, feeding herself, being in public, sleeping, thinking, and working.”
It says she was given methamphetamine and became addicted, and later spent 30 days in an in-patient drug rehabilitation enter, followed by a year and a half in a sober-living home where she underwent extensive mental health counseling, and that she wasn’t able to function normally until November 2018.
While the case is the first filed in Arkansas, similar lawsuits have been filed in other states. In December, a New York law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, announced it had filed a multidistrict litigation petition against 12 U.S. hotel chains alleging corporate malfeasance for failing to safeguard against regular sex-trafficking on their properties and profiting from the trafficking through room rentals.
Metro on 01/08/2020