CLEARWATER — In early December, emergency medical technicians responding to the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on U.S. 19 used naloxone to revive a female heroin overdose victim. After regaining consciousness, the woman, 19, told Clearwater detectives that she had obtained the heroin at the Knights Inn next door.
It was not the first time that Clearwater Police Department detectives had heard about heroin use at Knights Inn; in fact, medics had saved an overdose victim at the Knights Inn three months earlier. Drug activity and a long list of drug arrests there have since led the city to consider naming it a public nuisance.
The Nuisance Abatement Board, which consists of seven citizens, contacts owners when police find continuous prostitution and drug-related activity on their property. The police department has warned Amish Patel, who owns the hotel under the moniker DEVOM LLC, to undertake measures to halt illegal drug activity there. The city’s case names the property as the Knights Inn, but Patel has since changed the inn’s name to the Clearwater Hotel.
Though Clearwater Police Lt. Michael Ogliaruso noted in an Oct. 9 letter to the nuisance board that “Mr. Patel appears to be very cooperative and will work with the Clearwater Police Department to address the issues identified with his property,” the December overdose at the Holiday Inn and other drug activity put his hotel back on the nuisance board’s radar.
Patel faces a March 4 nuisance board hearing where he will have the opportunity to defend himself against accusations that he hasn’t done enough to halt illegal goings-on, board attorney Matt Smith said.
In October, Ogliaruso suggested Patel hire security guards to patrol the property, but the hotel owner told the lieutenant that he could not afford to do so.
The city complaint against Patel is based on at least a dozen drug arrests at the hotel. The arrests range from simple possession in the parking lot, to sales and trafficking from cars and hotel rooms, to the alleged manufacturing of crack cocaine and methamphetamine in rooms at the hotel, police said.
Patel did not respond to requests for an interview.
Board can levy fines
The Nuisance Abatement Board can levy fines against the property and order Patel to reimburse the city for investigative costs and attorney’s fees — all of which could become a lien against the property if he fails to pay them.
The board can also close down a nuisance property, Smith said, if the illegal activity is “inextricably intertwined with the business.”
Police familiar with the case say Patel has cooperated to halt the activity.
“We will have to see how the record develops for this specific property,” Smith said. “Closure is possible, but probably not at a property’s first appearance before the board.”
Among the incidents at the hotel:
• In three instances in June 2019, police made arrests for cocaine, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepine possession.
• In August, police arrested a crack buyer, busted another person in the parking lot for meth possession, and caught a man cooking crack cocaine in Room 223.
• In September, a youngster overdosed in Room 228 and had to be revived with naloxone.
Also in September, police arrested an individual for methamphetamine possession.
Transients, dealers take advantage
Ogliaruso, who met with Patel, said the owner has had to contend with people living in the woods as well as drug dealers taking advantage of the back doors in lower-floor hotel rooms. The officer said in an Oct. 9 email that Patel has tried to comply with the city’s requests.
Patel requires all guests and vehicles be registered at the front desk and has arranged for a towing company to remove unregistered vehicles.
He has urged his staff to report suspicious behavior to police.
After walking the hotel property with Patel, Ogliaruso noted that interior and exterior lighting was sufficient.
The hotel owner has numerous security video cameras on the property. They are available for the police to view at any time.
To deter drug sales, Patel has permanently secured back doors to small back patios outside each first-floor room.
The city also helped Patel in October by removing a small transient camp just north of the hotel, clearing brush and other debris.
Arrests continued into December
In spite of Patel’s — and the police department’s — efforts, arrests at the hotel continued into November and December, even after the Holiday Inn overdose. In November, for instance, police reviewed Patel’s guest registration and spotted a man wanted on a felony warrant. They entered his room and seized meth, heroin, and drug paraphernalia, ultimately charging him with trafficking. Police also used undercover informants to make multiple drug buys in the hotel parking lot, netting crack and fentanyl powder.
In a Dec. 3 letter to the nuisance board, Ogliaruso questioned Patel’s practice of calling police to check on suspicious guests. “However,” the lieutenant wrote the board, “he still rents the room to the subjects upon check-in, which allows him to obtain the rental fee” should police arrest or evict the suspicious guests.
Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter said property owners have a responsibility to limit illegal activity on their property. Where possible, police and city officials work with property owners.
“Most nuisance cases are settled before they reach the board,” Slaughter said.