|By Susan Misur, New Haven Register,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
August 7, 2009 - NEW HAVEN -- Doug Bethea said he stood stunned early Wednesday morning in the hallway of a Missouri hotel as police barged into rooms of his friends and youth dance team members, ordering them to leave.
Bethea, the team's leader, had traveled with chaperones and 32 members of the Nation Drill Squad and Drum Corp to Kansas City, Mo., to perform in a one-day national competition. They stayed three nights in a local hotel.
But the staff said they received numerous noise complaints from guests and had to evict the 48 New Haven residents with the help of law enforcement.
What's really at the root of the problem, Bethea says, is the race of the drill team members, whose ages range from 4 to 18. Bethea and every team member and chaperone is black, and he plans to sue the hotel and police department for discrimination.
"I'm not trying to make it a race thing, but it is a race thing," Bethea said Thursday night, after an early return to New Haven. The group had planned to drive back today.
Police and hotel staff said Thursday the eviction was not racially motivated.
"It absolutely was not in any way about race," hotel manager Ted Frerking said.
Children were crying and worried about what police might do to Bethea when he asked why they were there, Bethea said. His nephew and the team manager, Ronald Huggins, 17, said he felt discriminated against by the police and hotel staff.
"People say because we have a black president, things will change. But they haven't," Huggins said.
Bethea had been relaxing early Wednesday in his Sheraton Kansas City Sports Complex Hotel room, chatting with his wife, friends and four members of the drill team after a long day of performing. The team won multiple trophies in the Elks Grand Lodge World National Championships, which it has participated in for 21 years.
That's when a 1:30 a.m. knock at his hotel room door changed everything.
Bethea said a hotel front desk attendant told him the group had 15 minutes to get their stuff and leave, or police would be called to remove them forcefully.
Frerking said the front desk had been receiving numerous noise complaints from other guests since the group arrived Sunday afternoon and checked into 10 rooms. Over the next three days, Frerking said, the management warned Bethea and his group about the noise.
Frerking said after one-toomany angry guests grew upset late Tuesday night over hearing doors slamming, children running down the hallway and music blaring, the drill team and chaperones had to be evicted.
And, even though everyone immediately began packing their things, eight white officers from the Kansas City Police Department showed up, Bethea said.
No arrests were made, Darin Snapp, the Kansas City Police Department public information officer, said Thursday.
"They (hotel staff) said they tried everything. They had to compensate about 10 other rooms of people staying there. I mean people staying at the hotel were applauding when we got there and they saw the drill team packed up and on the bus," Snapp said.
Snapp and Frerking contend the eviction and decision to call police was not racially motivated, and the hotel would do the same thing no matter who was creating a continuous disturbance.
But Bethea said everyone was in their room by 11:30 p.m. Earlier, the children had been going into one another's rooms to socialize and ran down the hall to go downstairs. But they weren't running up and down the hall for an extended period, and calling police was unnecessary, he added.
Huggins said the police looked "ready to go" to use their Tasers and batons, keeping their hands over their holsters.
Tarijauna Vincent, a chaperone, had brought her baby on the trip.
"They were banging on the doors, and I'm like, 'My baby's sleeping.' They're like, 'You've got to go.' They wouldn't even help me with my bags, and I'm trying to carry my baby," Vincent said.
Bethea helped load everyone onto their bus and drove a halfhour away to another hotel. He said the Sheraton hasn't compensated them for leaving their rooms two nights early.
On Wednesday morning, the crew began the 20-hour drive back to New Haven. As he recalled the experience Thursday evening, Bethea broke down into tears.
"People can say what they want, but we were disrespected. As a grown man, I was scared. I can see putting me out, but you don't do that to children," he said. "I'm just glad to be home." Susan Misur can be reached at 789-5742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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