Billings city officials sent a warning letter to managers of a motel on North 27th Street about frequent police activity at the business and complaints from city residents.
The letter, written by City Administrator Chris Kukulski and City Attorney Gina Dahl, was addressed to the managers of the Rodeway Inn, at 1315 N. 27th St. Dated April 6, it was posted recently on Facebook by City Council member Penny Ronning.
The city said the complaints had been registered with the city through various means, including 911 calls, the Code Enforcement Division and to city administration directly.
The motel had seen nine code enforcement complaints “in recent months” and more than 400 calls to police over the past six years, Kukulski and Dahl noted.
“This would be an astonishing number of calls if your property were a bar; but, as a hotel, it is simply amazing,” the city wrote. “I hope this throws up some red flags for you.”
The city said the police calls were for complaints ranging from drug sales to trafficking to assaults.
The city isn’t arguing the business alone is responsible for all of the police activity, Kukulski and Dahl said. But the formal letter was an attempt to “put you on notice” regarding the complaints.
The police activity and alleged code enforcement violations have hurt neighboring businesses as well as the residential neighborhood just to the east of the business, on North 26th Street, the letter stated.
The city said it expected to see “some dramatic improvements at the property” after the warning letter.
The city’s concern was based on protecting a quality business environment and the neighbors’ ability to enjoy their property free of nuisance, it said.
Vaibhav Gadade, the manager of the Rodeway Inn, said the spate of recent violent crime in Billings is big, and that his family feels it, too, sometimes worrying about their own safety.
But, he said, his business isn’t alone in being host to some of the violence.
“It’s happening in every other hotel, so I don’t know why they’re picking on the Rodeway Inn,” Gadade said.
Gadade said the Rodeway has implemented policies for any guest who is not traveling from out of town that requires a photocopy of an identification card and a credit card to be on file. They identify who’s local and who’s not through photo ID upon check-in.
He said similarly, those local guests are only allowed two people per room. Gadade said he watches the motel surveillance cameras to monitor the number of people in a room and kicks people out if they violate the rule.
Gadade said that they keep track of past guests who have had too much foot traffic in their rooms or were highly intoxicated and won’t rent to them again. Gadade said he worries the business is being targeted because both he, the manager, and the motel owner are Asian-American.
Gadade said his motel's clientele were primarily people needing short-term housing, and he said that problem needed to be better addressed in Billings.
“So I’m not sure – when the city is pointing the finger at us, they’re pointing the finger at themselves,” Gadade said.
He said most of the guests at his motel get referred there from two main direct service organizations in town: St. Vincent de Paul and RiverStone Health.
But Mary Gilluly, director of social services for St. Vincent, said that was incorrect. She said some of the clients St. Vincent de Paul serves choose to stay at the Rodeway using their own money, but that she often advises against it, citing concerns for their safety. Gilluly said she herself lives in the area and is wary of the frequent police activity at the Rodeway.
Barbara Schneeman, the communications director at RiverStone Health, said RiverStone does have a direct payment mechanism set up with the Rodeway in order to pay for short-term housing for RiverStone clients. But, in the 15 months from January 2020 to April of this year, RiverStone paid for just 14 people to stay at the Rodeway, she said. RiverStone has a similar payment arrangement with the Ledgestone Hotel.
The Rodeway Inn was the site of a standoff with police in October, when murder suspect Taylor Leigh Plain Bull holed up inside the motel as officers tried to serve him with an arrest warrant in the death of 26-year-old Lenita Goes Ahead. Plain Bull died in custody in April.
In September, 26-year-old Adrian Goodbear was found dead inside his car parked in the alley behind the Rodeway Inn, after being fatally stabbed near the downtown Hardee’s. Adriano Fowler remains set for trial on deliberate homicide in Goodbear’s death.
Kukulski said the letter sent to the Rodeway Inn is the first of its type he has sent during his tenure as city administrator. He said the letter was prompted by the volume of calls and complaints from the public about the business.
"It's really driven by the activity," he said.
Kukulski said he had not reviewed the 911 call activity or frequency of code enforcement complaints for other motels in town that see frequent police responses, such as the Lazy KT. The Lazy KT motel also saw its own police standoff in 2020 and is noted regularly in police notifications to the press about shootings and stabbings.
Kukulski said the frequency of 911 calls to the Rodeway was burdening the taxpayers, and that as public officials continue to ask for more resources to sustain local law enforcement, it was important to try different avenues to address problem spots.
"We're trying to use every method we can to improve the situation," he said.