Johnson County Sheriff seeks ordinance to hold hotel owners accountable for problems

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind – Frequent emergency calls to a motel on U.S. 31 are prompting the Johnson County Sheriff to seek a countywide ordinance to regulate hotels and hold owners accountable for recurring problems.

The Sheriff’s Office responded to the Hilltop Motel, just south of Franklin, 206 times in the last two years. Problems have included drug activity and disturbances that caused damage to rooms at the motel.

“We’ve had a lot of narcotics arrests out of there, or arrests involving disturbances that may have been because of people under the influence of narcotics,” said Major Andy Fischer.

On New Year’s Eve, Deputies responded to a disturbance where a couple was fighting. The incident resulted in a broken pipe in the room. When police arrived, they encountered a woman who walked naked outside and urinated on the hallway floor.

Fisher also remembers an incident involving a man who was under the influence of drugs when he tried to attack arriving deputies.

“He had broken out a window and was actually physically in his room with a shard of glass and was trying to get to us, but was so impaired by whatever narcotics he was under, he could not comprehend that the chain was on the door,” Fischer said.

The Johnson County Health Department has also responded to numerous complaints about poor conditions in the motel. Those include plumbing issues and exposed wiring. Two rooms that were seized as meth labs in 2009 and 2011 are still condemned pending final inspection by the state, according to Health Department officials.

“I think if they can restrict on the other folks that come in there visiting the people that are staying there, that would solve a lot of their problems,” Fischer said.

The motel’s current manager, Andy Patel, says he has taken several steps to improve conditions and correct problems since he took over in 2016. Those steps include installing new security cameras around the outside of the building. Patel has also instituted a new set of motel rules. The list includes a “no visitor” rule.

Johnson County Sheriff, Duane Burgess wants to explore a county ordinance based on a hotel ordinance passed by the city of Greenwood last year. The ordinance would require hotel operators to be licensed with the county. If problems persist, the license could be placed on probationary status as corrective measures are explored by the motel, police and health officials. If corrective measures don’t work and problems continue, the license could eventually be revoked, essentially shutting the hotel down.

Fischer says the intent of the ordinance is to open lines of constructive communication between hotel operators and police, fire and other officials.

“We’re not trying to shut any business down, that’s not the Sheriff’s goal here,” Fischer said.  “The Sheriff’s goal is to keep Johnson County residents safe. So if the hotel owners take responsibility for some of the actions that are going on there and this ordinance helps keep them in check on that, then we’re going to be heading toward the goal that we all want.”

Burgess said the ordinance is still in the development stage. His office’s legal team is exploring the details before drafting language to present to County Commissioners.

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