Complaint filed against Hurricane City Police and Washington County jail staff following arrest of hotel owner

Stock image by Jason Finn/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Robert Sykes, an attorney in Salt Lake City, filed a 35-page complaint in U.S. District Court late Wednesday, which involved “one of the most outrageous assaults on a hardworking citizens that I’ve seen during my practice,” he said during the press conference held via video Thursday.

In this 2019 file photo, Hurricane City Police officers respond to scene of an incident in Hurricane, Utah, April 27, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Sykes is representing Vincent and Danyale Blackmore, owners of My Place Hotel on West 80 South off state Route 9 in Hurricane.

The case was filed following an incident that took place at the hotel on Jan. 6, 2020 involving Danyale Blackmore and a man who called police when he was locked out of his room and was unable to get back into the hotel.

Shortly after 1 a.m., the man told responding officers he left his room to go outside to have a cigarette, and then realized he left his key card in the room. He went on to say when he knocked and yelled to get the attention of a hotel employee, he was unsuccessful, adding he found no one who could help him. At that point, he said he kicked the hotel entrance door that was locked to get back into the lobby and then called police.

According to video footage taken by a police body camera, officers entered the lobby where they used the phone to ring a hotel clerk and then spoke to Danyale Blackmore, a discussion ensued before she came to the lobby to meet them. As soon as she noticed the damage to the door she demanded that the man who called police be escorted off the property, a request she made multiple times during her interactions with police.

The following footage was released to the media and contains unedited police body camera footage of the incident. The video contains profanity and may not be appropriate for all viewers. Click here to view the video.

When she was walking back toward the lobby, she was detained and arrested by one of the officers, as shown in the footage.

Blackmore was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and booked into jail on misdemeanor interfering with an arrest. She was later charged for the offense as well as one count of disorderly conduct, an infraction.

It is what happened during the interaction between the hotel owner and the officers that is outlined in the complaint Sykes filed Wednesday alleging that Blackmore’s rights were violated during the arrest, as well as the illegal strip search that allegedly took place as she was being processed at the jail in Washington County.

In the footage on the night of the incident, after one of the officers entered the hotel, he called the owner from the lobby to ask if she could help the guest get back into his room. The footage shows a short discussion where Blackmore appears to be arguing with the officer, who later stated she was swearing at him.

According to the probable cause statement filed with the court, the officer wrote that Blackmore “refused to meet with us in the lobby and she refused to call 911 to verify I was an officer there trying to help a guest,” and only came down after the guest called her.

Danyale Blackmore speaks during press conference held via video from her attorney’s office in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 4, 2021 | Photo captured by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Blackmore, who also spoke during the press conference, said the hotel is locked at 11 p.m. nightly, which is standard operating procedure; and when the officer called from the lobby at 1:30 a.m., she was alarmed knowing there should not have been anyone in the lobby at that time.

Seeing no patrol vehicles in the parking lot from her window on the opposite side of the hotel, she said she thought it was a prank call until she received the second call. She also became alarmed when she saw her $18,000 entrance door damaged at the newly opened hotel.

Less than two minutes after the interaction began, the owner was handcuffed and taken into custody.

Sykes said in the footage the officer can be heard telling hotel owner she was being detained because she was “acting stupid,” that she was “so d— drunk” and that she was “not listening” to the officers.

Moreover, the officer made several allegations in the report to justify the arrest, the attorney said, claims that were “false” including the statement that Blackmore presented a risk to the officers’ safety as well as to the guest in the lobby.

According to the probable cause statement, the officer wrote that Blackmore was yelling as she walked towards him, adding “I put my hands out and stopped Danyale from walking past me,” saying there was concern that she was going to assault the guest or force him out of the hotel. As Blackmore attempted to move past the officer, he “grabbed” her arms and placed them behind her back “in order to detain her and restrain her for my safety and the safety of others present.”

The probable cause statement also said that as the owner “pulled her arms away and tried to turn her body around, the officer told her to stop and “informed her she was under arrest” which is when she “continued to resist by pulling her arms away.”

Sykes said the officer used force when he slammed the woman against the wall, which also violated her rights, as officers are only allowed to use an amount of force sufficient to equalize the risk but not any more force than that.

The probable cause also noted a strong odor of alcohol and that Blackmore allegedly admitted to drinking an alcoholic beverage after work. Based on her behavior “there was probable cause Danyale’s actions were disorderly and caused alarm.”

The officer closed by writing “there was also probable cause Danyale interfered with our attempts to detain and then place her under arrest.”

The attorney stated his client was never told what she was being arrested for – not at the hotel, not during the six minutes she sat handcuffed in the patrol vehicle alone or during the ride to the jail.

One they reached Purgatory Correctional Facility, Blackmore was strip searched while, as cited in the complaint, four male deputies were present –“which is outrageous,” Sykes said.

Sykes also said the strip search during this particular incident went against jail regulations and should have never happened. As such, the complaint includes four unnamed Washington County Sheriff’s deputies who were working at the jail at the time of the arrest.

Blackmore described the search during the press conference saying she was ordered to strip down while there were “male guards standing there watching as I was taking off my clothes,” she said, adding that the humiliation was “unbearable.”

She said it has been over a year since the incident took place and still she is afraid to work at the hotel and fears anytime she sees an officer that she will be arrested. The fear was so great, she said, it took her more than a month to leave the house.

She also said she was disturbed by the fact the officers failed to verify the man who called police was actually a hotel guest and instead placed her under arrest and then left the hotel unsecured.

Vincent Blackmore, the owner’s husband, also spoke during the press conference and said he has been very involved in civic matters and has always had the highest respect for authority and for city officials until recently when he ran into problems prior to opening the hotel. He filed a lawsuit two weeks prior to the “attack” on his wife, he said and alleges the arrest was “in retaliation – full retaliation” against the couple for filing the claim in court.

He also said they were being discriminated against since his family was one of the founding families of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that settled out in Hildale more than a century ago.

The couple’s attorney said even without the background information on what took place weeks prior to the incident or the family background, he said that what happened on that night was unlawful and a violation of his client’s rights – regardless of whether there is a connection between the lawsuit and the incident Jan. 6 of last year.

Referring to her initial interactions with police, Danyele Blackmore said the officer should have talked to her before taking any action but instead he just arrested her and took her to jail without telling her why.

Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

All the while, she said, the guest, who had not yet been verified as a guest at the hotel, climbed through the window of the room he only stated was his hotel room and was accompanied by one of the officers while doing so.

Moreover, the attorney said, the hotel guest was never charged for damaging the door or with public intoxication, despite the fact that he allegedly drove away from the hotel later that night “still very intoxicated.”

The attorney also said the audio on the officers’ body cameras was disabled when the officers were speaking to each other, actions the complaint alleges were “a purposeful attempt to hide evidence of their wrong-doing and to spoliate the record.”

A review of the footage from one of the officer’s body cameras revealed that the audio was turned off twice during the incident and each time it was when the officers were speaking to one another.

With the owner on her way to jail, the complaint alleges, the second officer called the hotel company’s corporate office to report that Blackmore was taken into custody by police – an “intentional act” that was done “vindictively and solely to damage plaintiffs and their reputation with other My Place owners and employees.”

Sykes closed by saying there are many troubling aspects involved in the incident and that police officers “are not entitled to use force if no force is necessary and there was no basis for the arrest.”

St. George News reached out to Hurricane Police officer and spokesperson Ken Thompson who said the department has not received the complaint and they are unable to comment at this time.

The complaint also includes four unnamed Washington County Sheriff’s deputies who were working at the jail at the time of the arrest.

St. George News reached out to the Utah Attorney General’s Office but had not yet heard back at the time of this report.

The defendant is scheduled to appear in court on the charges in June.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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