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Motel's "Do not rent" List Subject of a Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit

By Rick Brundrett and Shalama Jackson, The State, Columbia, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 3, 2006 - Cayce police maintain a list of people they have banned from hotels and motels in the city, a federal civil rights lawsuit contends.

Brenda Bryant, a Lexington community activist, claims in her lawsuit that the police department enforced its hotel/motel ban on "numerous occasions" before her April 2005 arrest on charges she violated the ban.

The agreement between the hotels/motels and the city is a "policy and custom adapted and followed by both," though it's not backed by local ordinance or state law, the lawsuit said.

Efforts to reach Cayce Police Chief Charley McNair were unsuccessful Thursday.

City Attorney Danny Crowe said he didn't know if the police department maintained a ban list and he had not seen the lawsuit. City manager John Sharpesaid he could not comment on the lawsuit.

Bryant was acquitted of trespassing in June 2005, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Columbia.

She seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages against the city, police officers, the Masters Economy Inn on Commerce Drive and its manager.

"I've never seen anything like this since the 1960s when they banned 'coloreds' from hotels and motels," said Mark Whitlark, Bryant's Columbia lawyer.

Herbert Buhl, a Columbia attorney who handles cases for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday that his organization would be "troubled by any deprivation of constitutional rights to due process."

Masters Economy general manager Robert Armstrong estimated that 150 to 250 people are on his motel's "Do not rent" list, including "druggies" and "people that skip out without paying their phone bills."

"My business is to sell rooms, but I don't want to sell rooms to someone who last month rented a room where both bedspreads and the TV are missing," he said.

The motel's assistant manager, Peter Hughes, said the "Do not rent" list is shared with another Masters motel. But he added his place and a nearby Knights Inn -- where Bryant was arrested -- will contact each other about guests who have caused problems.

Hughes said Cayce police maintain a separate trespass notice list that might not include everyone on his motel's list. He said he often doesn't call police about problem guests.

Tom Sponseller, president of the Hospitality Association of South Carolina, said Thursday that "Do not rent" lists are not an industry practice.

Hughes said Bryant was asked to leave his motel on April 29, 2005, because she didn't have money for another night's stay and she "went ballistic" on him and Armstrong.

She already was on the motel's "Do not rent" list for a payment problem during an earlier stay but got a room April 28 through her husband, he said.

In court papers, Bryant claimed she was falsely accused of being an unregistered guest. Whitlark said his client wanted a room for herself to recuperate from exhaustion stemming from an obsessive-compulsive cleaning disorder.

The lawsuit gave this account:

Armstrong and two Cayce police officers, identified in the lawsuit as M.L. Brakefield and W.E. Ackerman, entered her room without permission on separate occasions after 10:30 a.m. April 29 and told her to leave. She told them she didn't have a phone, cash or a car and needed time to contact her husband.

Brakefield and Ackerman forced her to sign a trespass notice banning her from all hotels/motels in Cayce, the suit says. Out of necessity, she then walked to the nearby Knights Inn on Airport Boulevard, where she was given permission to use a phone.

Brakefield saw her at the motel about 12:45 p.m. and arrested her for trespassing, "handcuffing her in a physical and harsh manner." She remained handcuffed for more than nine hours while being treated for breathing problems and pain at Lexington Medical Center, according to the suit.

Bryant said she was hospitalized for seven days, the first two of which she was under armed guard.

Claims in her lawsuit include false arrest, false imprisonment, defamation of character, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 771-8484 or rbrundrett@thestate.com [mailto:rbrundrett@thestate.com].

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Copyright (c) 2006, The State, Columbia, S.C.

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