NORTH LITTLE ROCK — A Motel 6, once deemed a common nuisance by court order, is being sued by a woman who claims the owners looked the other way while she was forced into sexual slavery over six months at the 118-room property.
The anonymous plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, accuses motel franchise owner Stone Hospitality Inc. of ignoring her cries for help while she was forced to work as a prostitute at the motel, at 400 W. 29th St., between March 2019 and August, according to the 10-page suit filed Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
An unnamed motel manager knew what was happening to her and promised to help, but never did, the suit states.
The lawsuit accuses Stone Hospitality of violating federal sex-trafficking laws, describing the motel, which sits about two blocks west of the city’s Laman Library and the sheriff’s northside booking facility, as a “well-known spot for human trafficking.”
Federal law allows victims of sex-trafficking to pursue civil litigation against whoever benefited from their suffering when the defendant knew or should have known what was happening to them. Stone Hospitality, either knowingly or with reckless disregard for the woman’s situation, benefited by taking money for the nightly rent from the woman’s abuser, the lawsuit states.
The woman’s unnamed abuser used “manipulation, coercion and abuse” to hold her at the motel and forced her to have sex for money, sometimes by threatening physical assault and sometimes by threatening her child, the lawsuit states. He kept all the money, according to the complaint.
“Local law enforcement have responded to calls for human trafficking related to activity at the Motel 6,” according to the complaint, which states that police in 2019 were called to the property more than 100 times for suspicious activity, assault, drug use, altercations and disturbances. Five of those incidents involved rape, sexual assault, forced prostitution or a missing girl, the lawsuit states.
In October 2014, North Little Rock was having so many problems with the property it labeled the motel “a threat to the health, safety and welfare” of residents, and took Stone Hospitality and its corporate officers — Khetan Bhakta, Manoj Bhakta, Suresh Patel and Amrut Patel — to court to have the property declared a common nuisance, a ruling that would subject it to city safety controls or possible shutdown by court order.
That lawsuit, filed with the cooperation of Prosecutor Larry Jegley, cited five years of crimes at the motel, beginning in 2009, including a 2012 murder, plus 27 drug offenses, an armed robbery, three domestic batteries, two aggravated assaults and 33 instances of public intoxication.
The motel reached a settlement four months later that labeled the property a common nuisance and put it under court control for two years. The agreement, which expired in February 2018, required Stone Hospitality to install new management and bar former manager Manojkumar Prafulbhai Bhaka from working there.
Stone Hospitality also had to install a weekend security staff of off-duty police officers and maintain an iron fence around the grounds with an eastern gate locked overnight. The motel also had to allow police to regularly examine guest logs and have a representative meet monthly with police.
The 42-year-old motel, which covers almos 3 acres, has a tax value of $292,410 and owes $14,650 on a $19,533 tax bill, according to the county treasurer’s office. Stone Hospitality bought the property for $2.7 million from Motel 6 Operation limited partnership in December 2008 and paid off the mortgage in January, property records show.
The plaintiff in the sex-trafficking litigation states she tried to get motel employees to help her by showing she was in distress and being abused.
In one instance, she ripped down curtains, hoping someone would arrive to repair them, she said. The woman said she also tried to display the marks on her body, bruises inflicted by the man’s abuse, hoping to draw attention. She also screamed and called for help while she was being beaten, she said.
She also called the front desk to get clerks to call police, but law officers never arrived at her room, the suit says. It describes one instance in which she told the clerk to call for police. Officers never arrived, but the manager went to her room and told her he “would handle it,” the suit states.
“Plaintiff’s trafficker went to the manager to pay the nightly rent and the police were never called,” according to the lawsuit.
The manager is unidentified in the suit, described only as driving a silver Infiniti.
“Defendants knew, or should have known, through plaintiff’s visible bruising and injury, yelling and screaming for help, or her specific request of front desk personnel and the manager to call law enforcement that Plaintiff was in danger and needed assistance,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants knew, or should have known, by the frequent unidentified, non-registered male guest visitors to Plaintiff’s room, that she was being trafficked.”
Her lawyers said the woman, in her early 30s, never saw North Little Rock police, but escaped her assailant’s clutches several months after leaving the motel when she was able to contact an organization that battles trafficking and sexual slavery. They said she had been forced to sell herself for sex at different places around Central Arkansas.
The national franchise Motel 6, based in Texas, reports on its website the North Little Rock franchisee trains its staff to recognize human trafficking and to help prevent it, but the suit alleges negligence in that since Stone Hospitality invites the public onto its premises, it has a “duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping those on the property safe.”
But Stone Hospitality failed to live up to its promises to the woman by not regularly inspecting rooms rented for long periods of time, failing to call police “once signs of human trafficking became apparent,” and lacking proper security features to monitor foot traffic in the motel, among other things, the lawsuit says.
Doe is being represented by attorneys Meredith Moore, Lauren Manatt and Denise Hoggard of Rainwater, Holt & Sexton of Little Rock.
That legal team already is suing the owners of the Quality Inn & Suites on Mitchell Drive in Little Rock, Seven Star Hotel Group Inc. and its management on behalf of another woman with similar accusations.
That anonymous woman said she was forced into prostitution during three months in 2014 by sex traffickers who controlled the hotel’s entire fourth floor, with the knowledge of the owners, according to the suit.