Marietta hotel the latest named in federal sex trafficking lawsuits

Federal lawsuits allege employees of this Marietta Days Inn knew sex trafficking was taking place, but did nothing to stop it.

Credit: Alexis Stevens

Credit: Alexis Stevens

Employees of a Cobb County hotel where police have responded to numerous calls over the years knew sex trafficking was taking place, newly filed federal lawsuits allege. Instead of helping victims, the suits claim, hotel employees helped the traffickers hide from police and profited from the crime ring.

The two lawsuits, filed last week, are the latest targeting metro Atlanta hotels for their alleged roles in trafficking. The same hotel is named in both suits — the Days Inn by Wyndham on Northwest Parkway in Marietta. Police have been called to investigate trafficking and numerous other crimes over the years.

“Without a venue, or crime scene, a sex trafficking venture ceases to exist,” one of the lawsuits says. “Defendants, for a fee, provided the crime scene, a private and anonymous venue for the 15-year-old (victim) to be sold for sex at their hotel.”

Explore4 Atlanta-area hotels face federal sex trafficking lawsuits

Part of the filing was a photograph of a vending machine in the hotel’s lobby stocked with condoms, a sticker with a lewd message affixed to the glass.

The companies that own and operate the Days Inn, including Lincoln Hotels, Days Inn Worldwide and Wyndham Hotel and Resorts, were contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for comment on the lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. A Wyndham spokesman declined to comment.

In January, Wyndham announced it had reinforced efforts to fight sex trafficking and donated hotel reward points to a nonprofit. The company also said training is required for all employees on trafficking.

“We condemn human trafficking in any form,” Wyndham President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Ballotti said in a statement on the company’s website. “In recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we want to reinforce our partnerships with Polaris and other important anti-trafficking organizations, while continuing to educate the hospitality community on how to help identify and report trafficking activities.”

The lawsuits claim employees of the Marietta Days Inn did nothing to help known victims and sometimes acted as “lookouts” when officers were called to the hotel in 2018. One of the victims was able to call the police, her lawsuit states.

“However, to further the sex trafficking enterprise and its benefits, employees of the Days Inn called the room that the plaintiff was trafficked in and informed the traffickers not to leave the room because police were in the parking lot,” the lawsuit states.

Hotel employees also overlooked signs that sex trafficking was taking place and ignored online reviews by other guests alleging criminal activity, the suits claim.

“While she was trafficked at the Days Inn, plaintiff exhibited numerous well known and visible signs of a minor sex trafficking victim in the common areas, of which defendants knew or should have known, including her age and inappropriate appearance, physical deterioration, poor hygiene, fatigue, sleep deprivation, injuries, a failure to make eye contact with others, no control of or possession of money, loitering, soliciting male patrons, and monitoring and control by her traffickers, including two older men,” one lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are seeking trials by jury and unspecified punitive damages, according to attorney Pat McDonough, one of several involved with the lawsuits. McDonough and Jonathan Tonge work for the Andersen, Tate and Carr law firm and attorneys Pete Law, Mike Moran and Denise Hoying are employed by Law and Moran.

In August, McDonough and Tonge filed four lawsuits believed to be the first in Georgia to target hotels, rather than the individuals trafficking victims. The four hotels named include a Red Roof Inn near Truist Park and a La Quinta Inn near North Point Mall. Hometown Studios, previously operating as a Suburban Extended Stay, on Peachtree Industrial Court in Chamblee and Extended Stay America on Hammond Drive near Sandy Springs are also named in the lawsuits, which are still pending.

In October, a separate lawsuit filed by different attorneys identified two Clayton County hotels and their owners for their roles in sex trafficking: A Days Inn on Adamson Parkway and an America’s Best Value Inn on Old Dixie Highway. The attorneys dismissed the lawsuit in May, records showed.

“It is an honor to represent such brave survivors,” McDonough told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Both clients are committed to seeking justice not only for themselves but also to ensure that hotels stop turning a blind eye to other children and young people who are repeatedly trapped and exploited at their hotels.”

Records show Marietta officers have often been called to the hotel, located among several businesses near Delk Road. It remains operational.

In March, a standoff lasted several hours after a man attacked and kidnapped a woman inside one of the rooms, according to police. Chonsie Lamonte Pye, 34, of Kennesaw was arrested after the incident and remained Monday in the Cobb jail, where he was being held without bond, records showed.

In November, a Florida woman was found in the hotel parking lot with two crack pipes, according to her arrest warrant. Investigators determined Sarah Elizabeth Harris, who initially gave officers various false names and dates of birth, was a fugitive wanted in her home state, her warrant states.

In separate incidents in 2018, officers arrested suspects for trafficking and prostitution in both March and August, according to police.

“In spite of their knowledge about the illegal activity at the Days Inn, including multiple reports and arrests related to minor sex trafficking and other sex crimes in the twelve months prior to plaintiff’s trafficking, defendants negligently failed to implement any measures to protect their invitees, including (the) plaintiff, from becoming victims of sex trafficking at the Days Inn and continued their venture to profit from the operation of the Days Inn and the minor sex trafficking,” one lawsuit states.

In Other News