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Royal Oak

October 16, 2013

Commission seeks answers after baby’s death at motel

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — When police responded Feb. 4 to a call for an unresponsive baby inside one of the rooms at the Seville Motel, 28300 Woodward Ave., the Royal Oak Police Department tried to resuscitate the child.

When the Fire Department arrived, firefighters rushed the baby, 2-month-old Gabrielle Taylor, to Beaumont Hospital, where doctors pronounced her dead.

On Sept. 27, the Royal Oak Police Department arrested the child’s mother, Destiny Thomas, 18, of Royal Oak Township, in connection with Taylor’s death.

The child died from complications of bronchopneumonia and malnourishment, according to the Police Department.

Oakland County prosecutors are charging Thomas with one count of child abuse in the second degree and one count of child abuse in the fourth degree.

Thomas was arraigned in 44th District Court Oct. 2 and is being held on $50,000 bond.

While she is going through the court system, the City Commission is seeking answers from the owner of the motel. The commission wants to know if the motel’s staff reported her to the city as a guest in the room for longer than 30 days, which is required under city law.

Police say Thomas had been living in the room since early December with her 29-year-old boyfriend.

“He rented out the room, and basically, she stayed with him,” said Police Chief Corey O’Donohue.

Phone calls to the Seville Motel for comment were not returned as of press time.

At the Oct. 7 City Commission meeting, Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton called for a full report into the incident to see if the motel violated any of the city’s ordinances. The commission approved his motion with a 6-0 vote. Commissioner Carlo Ginotti was absent from the meeting.

“Our ordinance required that the person’s name, as well as any dependents, be put on the registry,” Poulton said. “If that information isn’t in there, is it safe to assume it’s a violation of the ordinance?”

“Potentially, yes,” said David Gillam, the city attorney.

Gillam said that under the ordinance, hotel and motel owners are accountable for the behavior of their guests.

“One of the standards in the ordinance is that the owners are supposed to operate the business in the fashion that the pattern of conduct by the patrons of the business (is) not going to have a negative impact on the surrounding property owners,” Gillam said.

Gillam said in a phone interview that punishment is dependent upon the situation and ranges from a misdemeanor charge — up to 90 days in prison and or a $500 fine — to the revoking of the license to operate a motel or hotel within the city.

News of the charges against Thomas broke just as the commission was ready to disband the Hotel-Motel Committee. The commission approved the first reading to terminate the committee at the Oct. 7 meeting.

Additionally, the commission approved the first reading of an amendment to the Hotel-Motel Ordinance that would shorten the amount of time between license renewals from three years to one year.

Both potential changes will come up for final approval at the Oct. 21 meeting.

Laura Harrison was a city commissioner when the committee was formed in the 1990s. She said during the Oct. 7 meeting that it put in place many of the current regulatory rules for motels and hotels.

“You can disband the committee, but you have to continue your vigilance on these buildings,” Harrison said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “These are not needed in this town. Your job and the city employees’ job is to provide safety to this city — whether it’s to an 80-year-old friend and neighbor of mine or a 2-month-old baby that was neglected.”

Revelations of Thomas’ arrest and her baby’s death forced commissioners before voting to ensure that in repealing the committee, the city was not watering down any laws or standards on its motels — something City Manager Don Johnson assured them would not happen.

“The ordinance still stands, and the reporting requirements that we have in the ordinance that the hotels must meet is still required,” Johnson said.

Johnson said motels would still have to supply a list of guests to the city and must undergo regular inspections.

“We’re not undoing any of the rules they have to follow,” Johnson said.

The only change would be that the reviews and issues will come directly to the commission instead of the committee.

“The thought process behind (the decision) was that it gives all seven of us a part in the discussion,” Mayor Jim Ellison said of his fellow commission members.

Thomas is scheduled for a preliminary exam at 9 a.m. Oct. 18. Angela Whitaker, Thomas’ court-appointed attorney, did not return phone calls for comment, as of press time.

O’Donohue said Thomas, who was 17 years old when Taylor died, is being tried as an adult.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.