Hinds County chancery judge orders North Jackson hotel to shut down in the next 72 hours

Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 3:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Owners and residents of a North Jackson hotel have 72 hours to vacate the premises, after a Hinds County judge agreed with the city of Jackson that the facility needed to be shut down.

The hotel is the Olive Tree Hotel and Banquet Halls at 5075 I-55 North.

Court records indicate the city’s fire marshal has cited the facility for numerous safety violations, including an inoperable elevator, a defective fire alarm panel, and missing and inadequate smoke detectors.

The fire marshal ordered the facility to be shut down on May 17, giving owners and tenants until May 20 to vacate.

In response, the owners, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel, filed for a temporary restraining order in Hinds County Chancery Court asking a judge to block it.

Las Vegas Dragon’s registered agent is Adolfo Orozco, who has mailing addresses in Jackson and Las Vegas, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website.

In 2020, the Associated Press reported that Adolfo Orozco-Garcia, and his company faced “several negligence lawsuits seeking financial damages in state court” related to the deadly Alpine Motel Apartments in Las Vegas.

The Clark County District Attorney later charged with Orozco-Garcia with multiple felony counts in connection with the blaze that led to six deaths, according to KTNV-TV in Las Vegas.

According to KTNV, the complaint cited the condition of the building, including “inoperable exits and fire doors, inoperable fire alarms, and inoperable heating systems within various apartments.”

Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas backed the city’s decision and cited findings of the inspection that occurred there just two days before a hearing in the case.

He said Jackson Fire Marshal Elliot Holmes’ review of the facility “revealed an inoperable elevator, waste accumulation, a defective fire alarm panel, missing or inadequate smoke detectors, and irregular and inadequate inspection and maintenance of the smoke detectors, fire alarms, and fire pump.”

“The evidence clearly demonstrated that the hotel has still failed to comply with the necessary requirements to render the property safe for its residents.”

Owners, though, say the decision is unfair, and question why the city did not shut down the hotel in the past.

“My boss bought this hotel in June of last year. Before he bought it, there were these issues and the old owner never made any attempt to fix [them],” said General Manager Renee Guerrero. “The elevator hasn’t been inspected since 2019. Why didn’t you hound the old owner?

She went on to say that Las Vegas Dragon has spent tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade the facility, but just needed more time to implement the improvements because of COVID-19.

“The smoke detectors cost $168,000. We’ve paid more than half of that down,” she said. “We’ve spent, as far as the elevator goes, $25,000 to have someone come in and look at it and see what they can do. It’s going to be eight months [to get it fixed] because of the parts.”

“It’s not like we’re not doing it. We just need a little more time. It’s the shipping. We have no control over that due to COVID.”

Planning Director Jordan Hillman, though, said the city has been working to get violations at the Olive Tree addressed for “almost a year.”

“The fire marshal made multiple inspects and gave multiple notices,” she said. “The biggest issue is an inoperable elevator and that’s a multi-story building.” The hotel is six stories and has 200 rooms.

She said the city previously shut down the Hotel O on Northside Drive, for having similar conditions.

“We are getting very active in safety and property maintenance. This is one of the many cases that are ongoing,” Hillman said. “We’ve been very active in Environmental Court on a number of other hotels and specific long-time eyesores in Jackson. This is not a one-off situation. We are active across the board.”

Court records show that since July 2021, Olive Tree has “received numerous citations for violations of the IFC and the city ordinances regarding lack of inspection and maintenance of fire alarms and sprinkler systems, inadequate smoke detectors and fire suppression systems, an inoperable elevator and prohibited waste accumulation.”

The court goes on to state that the hotel was inspected 10 more times between October 2021 and June 2022 and that the same violations were reported each time.

“The evidence at trial established that [the] plaintiff has hired Johnson Controls Fire to correct issues regarding the smoke detectors, sprinklers, fire alarm, and fire pane. However, [the] plaintiff’s own Johnson Controls witness, Shaun Duran, acknowledged that the main building could not be compliant with the IFC for at least another 10 weeks due to the unavailability of certain parts.”

Thomas also pointed out inconsistencies in Guerrero’s testimony, who said that all rooms in operation had working smoke detectors, although “she later admitted that many rooms have battery-operated smoke detectors that are not monitored and that the elevator is inoperable without the emergency override key.”

Guerrero said that smoke alarms are typically tied into a system that allows hotel workers to monitor them from the fire panel at the front desk. The battery-operated devices are not tied into that system.

The judge also pointed out that while the plaintiff said guests were only housed on the first two floors of the main building, one “resident of the Olive Tree testified that he has lived on the fifth floor... since 2019.”

Court records indicate 17 staff members and their families reside there, as do four tenants who are on public assistance, as well as 26 long-term residents.

“We have multiple people in 67 rooms,” Guerrero said. “They have quite a few kids with them. There are quite a few disabled people... There’s a room where a guy took in three people off the streets to stay with him.”

Guerrero questions where those individuals will go once the hotel is closed.

Hillman said the city does have services to help those residents get into new housing. “There is a human side to what’s going on. The housing is needed,” she said. However, she said with the fire violations, residents at the Olive Tree are not safe.

The fact that residents will be displaced is also not lost on Thomas. “This court is empathetic to the consequences to be suffered by these residents for actions over which they have no control,” he wrote. “However, this court is most concerned with the safety of these residents and the very real current danger that the property presents to those who reside within its confines.”

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