Residents have reservations about Woodbury motel

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2012 - 10:50 PM

Woodbury residents want a local motel to either clean up its act or check out of town.

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A standoff with police involving numerous hostages at a Red Roof Inn near Interstate 494 and Valley Creek Road left one man shot to death by police and another under arrest, authorities said.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Woodbury residents want a local motel to either clean up its act or check out of town.

Almost a month after an hours-long police standoff with a gunman at the Red Roof Inn left an unarmed hostage dead, residents are still sounding off about crime at the local inn, which has had far more police calls for service than any other hotel in the city this year.

A petition, which calls for Red Roof to either change its policies or close, is expected to be presented at the City Council meeting Wednesday. Residents also raised concerns about the motel at the previous meeting.

Last week, Red Roof Inn management and city officials said in a joint statement that the motel would take steps to modify security, including "enhance its check-in procedures" and become the first hotel to participate in a staff training program developed by the Woodbury Public Safety Department for front-desk personnel.

"Red Roof will continue its long-standing cooperative relationship with local authorities and police," the statement said. "The City of Woodbury and Red Roof Inn have committed to an open and ongoing dialogue to ensure shared interests are met."

No additional details about the initiatives were revealed.

"I think it's great that they are making a commitment to do something," said Melanie Snyder, who has organized the online petition drive. "But now we need some action."

According to statistics released earlier this month, police have been called to the Red Roof 132 times so far this year, significantly more often than they were called to other city lodgings.

During that time, the Extended Stay America hotel in Woodbury had 36 calls for service, the second-highest in the city. The hotel with the fewest number of calls was the Hampton Inn with seven.

Snyder said that the number of police calls to the Red Roof Inn raises a red flag. "It's too dangerous to continue in the condition that it is right now," she said. "It has to be changed."

Snyder is married to Minneapolis police Sgt. Grant Snyder, who has investigated numerous child sex-trafficking cases in the Twin Cities including those in which girls were prostituted out of hotels. She started the online petition this month. As of Tuesday, it had more than 320 signatures.

Bloody standoff is last straw

The petition followed a chaotic hostage situation Aug. 31, in which a 25-year-old gunman allegedly held 11 people hostage, including six minors. Mark Eric Henderson Jr., 19, of St. Paul, died after being shot, possibly first by the alleged gunman and then by Woodbury police as he fled the motel room. The standoff lasted four hours, until negotiators were able to talk the gunman, Demetrius S. Ballinger, into surrendering. He has been charged with 27 felonies.

According to police statistics, last year the Red Roof Inn had 206 calls for service; in 2010, it had 164.

In the past two years, some of the largest categories of calls were for disorderly conduct, public assistance, arrest warrants and information. However, there also were calls for more serious incidents such as drugs, prostitution and even deaths.

In a statement released after the incident, Red Roof Inn officials said, "A review of the police call log shows that the vast majority of the police calls for service were routine or informational in nature or involved noise complaints, lockouts, medical assistance, and other minor activity that resulted in no further police action."

The statement went on to say, "Red Roof will continue to always put guest and employee safety first."

Outside of the statements, Red Roof officials declined to answer any other questions. The Woodbury location is one of a large group of hotels owned by a private partnership based in Texas.

Anonymity is a problem

The motel's proximity to the highway, the rooms' exterior doors, and the fact that a room at the Red Roof Inn is relatively cheap and can be paid for in cash have been contributors to crime at the motel, Melanie Snyder said.

While the location and layout of the motel can't be changed, Snyder conceded, its policies can.

She said safety could be improved if the motel would hire an off-duty police officer during busy evenings and stop taking cash.

"If they can change that, that's going to help significantly," she said.

A Red Roof spokeswoman declined to detail what crime prevention measures the motel currently takes.

In the wake of Twin Cities cases involving girls being trafficked at hotels, officials from law enforcement and the hospitality industry launched an initiative last month to educate hotel staff on what signs to look for to spot sex trafficking in their establishments.

Some of the best practices to help detect and prevent sex trafficking also can help in the fight against other crimes in hotels, said Dan McElroy, president of Hospitality Minnesota.

Making patrons pay only with credit cards helps prevent crime and has become a growing hotel policy trend, McElroy said.

"We want to make it hard for people to be anonymous," he said.

Staff writer Joy Powell contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495; Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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