KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Murders, overdoses, fires, assaults, prostitution and drug trafficking are all taking place behind closed doors in some of Knoxville's motels, according to call logs, incident reports and data from Knoxville Police Department.
Motels are smaller than hotels. They offer fewer services. Their intended purpose is to temporarily shelter roadside travelers. There is an expected high level of turnover. For those reasons, motels have historically been cheaper than hotels.
However, while some people are just passing through, others are making a home for themselves in Knoxville's motels.
"You get off the exit, and you turn left [at] the light and you're there. It's just easy," said Alexis, who stayed at the Motel 6 near Cedar Bluff exit on a few occasions.
She was meeting with her boyfriend, Kiefer, during a long-distance relationship. According to the couple, they stayed at Motel 6 three times from September to October.
They are under 21 years old, so many other motels and hotels would not rent to them; however, Motel 6 would.
"When we got there, the front desk was super nice. The staff were friendly. I mean, that's not the issue," Kiefer said. "But, that's not somewhere I would want to go all the time."
They said the Motel 6 location looked good online -- 3-star reviews.
But, what the reviews don't say is that this motel has the most calls for service for police in the city of Knoxville.
"We felt comfortable once we were currently in the room. But, outside of that, it was just like you had to be aware and on guard. That's not somewhere you want to hang out by yourself," Kiefer said.
According to data from the Knoxville Police Department. The Motel 6 off Cedar Bluff has had 1,003 calls for service in the past five years. That is the most out of any other business registered as a 'hotel/motel' in the Knoxville Geographic Information System (KGIS).
Note: Some motels fly under the radar by being registered as a 'business,' rather than a 'hotel/motel.' We found that to be the case with some of the motels in our data collection.
At the Cedar Bluff motel, those calls ranged from suspicious people to fires, overdoses and assaults.
For example, in 2019, a 42-year-old man faced aggravated kidnapping and domestic assault charges after police said he held a woman against her will for hours at Motel 6. KPD said he held the victim in the room and assaulted her multiple times including burning her with a cigarette and throwing her into a wall.
Also, according to our research in 2020, the Motel 6 off Cedar Bluff is in the top three locations for overdose calls in Knoxville.
"I wouldn't advise any woman by themselves to like, stay there, or walk around outside," Kiefer said.
10News requested an interview with Motel 6 over the phone several times, and in person. The motel location declined to comment.
However, it's not the only motel with issues. Stephanie McBrayer stayed at the Super 8 Motels for a few months, as she waited to move into a new apartment.
"We ended up in the motel. The one we were at, we had stayed a couple [of] years back, because we had a fire in our apartment. So, we got placed at the Super 8 on Merchants, which… Some of these places... some of them are a little scary,” McBrayer said.
10News spoke with the owner of Super 8 on Merchants, Jay Patel. He said McBrayer stayed a few times at the motel. At one point, he said she fell behind on rent- and the motel picked up the cost.
"We're here to help people out when they are in need," Jay said.
There is a cluster of motels off Merchants Road. Several of them see many calls for service each day.
"A lot of them now…. They're just full of people that are on drugs. It's dangerous, you know, I mean, it’s not safe,” McBrayer said. "Our first couple nights there, we were like okay, we have to do something to protect ourselves.”
Patel said he is frustrated with the number of problems occurring in the area around his motel. He said KPD asked him to call the police anytime there are issues around the property.
Patel also told 10News over the phone that the reason Super 8 is on the list, is because he is constantly calling the police to remove suspicious people and trespassers or to report suspicious activity on the property.
There are two types of motel owners: Ones that allow the activity to happen and ones, like him, who do everything they can to clean up the area, according to Patel.
He spends the majority of his day monitoring the property and even has an extensive 'Do Not Rent' list comprised of 200-300 people.
Numbers provided by Knoxville Police showed Super 8 motel was the third motel with the most calls for service.
The list for the past five years:
- Motel 6 off Cedar Bluff had 1,003 calls for service
- Regency Inn on Magnolia had 959 calls for service.
- Super 8 on Merchants had about 950 calls for service.
- Executive Inn on Chapman Highway had 893 calls.
- Value Inn on Magnolia had 892 calls for service.
"This is obviously not a great situation for the community who lives around that, because that might bring specific problems there. It's not a great situation for the business itself, and that's not a great situation for us when the police are having to frequently respond to the same location over and over again," said Scott Erland, with KPD.
Erland explained in situations like this, KPD will work with problem locations to clean up the property and make it safer, which, in turn, decreases the number of calls.
Executive Inn is an example of a motel that has worked with Knoxville Police.
"We have worked with KPD and they told us that, hey, you got to cut down all these calls that are coming through," said Harry Patel, the owner of Executive Inn.
The motel is now number three on KPD's list of top five motels with the most calls for service. Just a few years ago, it was number one on the list.
It was also on 10News' 2020 list of top five overdose locations in the city.
The motel also made headlines when KPD attempted to serve a warrant to one of the visitors in 2019. The motel guest jumped from the second-floor balcony and began to run from the police. A KPD officer shot him in the hand and arrested the runner.
Patel said they started to take more precautions to avoid renting to those types of clients.
"We had a lot of guests that were staying on a weekly basis," Patel said. "A lot of these folks, I don't know, if they were into drugs or whatever else, but they had a lot of people that are coming in off the streets visiting their room and leaving. So there's just constantly a lot of traffic going on. That's when KPD made a call to us. And said hey, you guys need to clean this up, or we're going to shut it down."
Erland said KPD provides motels safety tips. They suggest locations to put up gates, hedges and cameras so as to deter criminal activity from occurring around the property.
"We closed off all the exterior points where you can come in from outside, you can just go in from the inside. So, that helped reduce the traffic, and nuisance," Patel said.
In 2020, Executive Inn got 214 calls for service, in 2021 they had 173 and in 2022 they had 170. There is a drop off in the number of calls between 2020 and 2021. Patel said that's due to their implementation of KPD's safety suggestions.
He also explained that most of the time, it's the motel owners making the calls to law enforcement.
"We got a lot stricter on that and started doing a lot of the trespassing calls, which I'm sure KPD is not happy about. But, they had to start issuing those trespass warnings to stop those people from coming on the property," Patel said.
It was the same situation for Value Inn on Magnolia. 10News spoke with the motel's owner over the phone. His name is Ken T.
"We take all the ids, we take all the precaution. There are some nuisance around still, but a lot less than before," Ken said.
In 2020, Value Inn had 234 calls for service, in 2021 they had 148 and in 2022 they had 153. They too saw a stark drop off in calls after working with the police.
Ken said they created a 'do not rent' list for people who previously caused problems on the property.
"There are a handful nuisance still out there. There are some prostitution problems out there. But, we know those people and we just don't rent to them," Ken said.
Patel said it's a daily struggle for his motel.
"I would love it where we didn't have those kinds of clients. But, where are these people to go?" Patel said.
He said motels offer a type of service that is more desirable to certain clients.
"When you rent a hotel, at the end of the day, you don't have to worry about paying the light bill, water bill, phone bill and all that kind of stuff. Right? All that's included," Patel said. "And I get it. There are a lot of folks going through a hard time. And we're, here to help them. But, we don't want the nuisance cases."
KPD said they don't want the owners to have to turn away clients. They just want to focus on finding a "mutually-beneficial solution."
"When you're frequently having to go to the same place over and over again, that pulls our officers away from doing some of the other stuff that might be of a higher public safety priority," Erland said.
If a motel persists with issues, it could be at risk for closure under the state's nuisance statute.