Good police work or heavy-handed tactics?

Local business owners believe cops have unfairly targeted them


Fred and Helen Kim own Sunnyside's Townhouse Motel. The couple feels they have been unfairly targeted by police.

Recent law enforcement tactics at Sunnyside's Townhouse Motel have owners Fred and Helen Kim feeling as if they have been targeted and discriminated against. Since 1998 the Kims have been contributing to Sunnyside's economy via their two businesses, Townhouse Motel and Edison Market. Seven days a week the two of them are at work well before sunrise until well after sunset. The couple has lived in Sunnyside since 1991 and raised their two children, Anthony and Christine here. Both were valedictorians of their classes at Sunnyside High School. The couple's son recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in molecular biology and their daughter is at Pepperdine University, studying law. "Christine was born at Sunnyside Community Hospital," said Mrs. Kim. She said the family has always believed in promoting Sunnyside. "This is a town I'm very proud of," said Mrs. Kim. The Kims' attorney, Doug Garrison, said the couple was recently charged with maintaining or permitting a nuisance. He said officials have used 97 police calls recorded since 2010 to file the charge, for which there is a $1,000 fine. Garrison pointed out there are reports among the stack included in the case that don't have anything to do with the Townhouse Motel, however. For instance, a police officer was involved in a traffic accident in front of the motel. The officer's cruiser struck another vehicle on Yakima Valley Highway, but the motel's address is listed as where the call originated. "What on earth does that have to do with Mr. Kim," Garrison questions. He said there is a report of a suspicious male behind the motel, but not on the motel property. Another report involves police assisting medical personnel with a patient. Again, Garrison said those calls should not reflect on the Kims or their business. Mr. Kim said he is most upset because he feels some of Sunnyside's younger officers aren't willing to work with him in the spirit of community. "They act as if they are superior," he said, noting some of Sunnyside's veteran officers are more friendly and willing to speak with him. "We've always believed in cooperating and working with law enforcement," said Mr. Kim. He said some police officers, however, have taken situations to a new level. "They come to the motel and begin knocking on doors, waiting for someone to answer," said Mr. Kim, stating that some of these officers demand that he open doors for them when no one answers. "They do this, but they don't have probable cause," he said, stating the incidents aren't isolated to single rooms at the motel. The officers, Kim said, knock on every door when these incidents occur. "I understand the need to enforce the laws, but the police don't always have warrants," said Kim, adding that he often receives a curt response when he asks officers what is going on. "They just tell me, 'It's police business'," he said. Kim said that Sunnyside police officers don't often show up with just one vehicle, either. Instead, he said several vehicles will be parked at the motel. That, said Mr. Kim, creates a bad reputation for the business. Garrison said there have been numerous times when police have arrived, detained a customer of the Kims and released the same customer within hours of the incident. "Most of the cases have been dismissed," said Garrison. Citing a recent case that is directly related to the charge of maintaining or permitting a public nuisance against the Kims, Garrison provided documents showing a motel customer had been charged with a crime. Her case was dismissed, but the charge against the Kims remains. "She was in her room asleep," he said. Garrison said Sunnyside police have visited that same customer's room numerous times in search of an individual related to her boyfriend. "They often confuse her boyfriend for his brother," said the attorney. In the police report the officers state the woman's boyfriend was found to be in possession of a large knife, burglary tools and pipes used to smoke methamphetamine, as well as a key that could be used to steal cars. The Kims were cited following the arrest. Mr. Kim said, "It's heavy-handed enforcement that makes me reluctant to trust the police...I don't feel safe." Mrs. Kim said, "I feel there has been discrimination against us." She said she was trying to explain something to an officer and he cut her off, telling her she would be arrested if she wasn't quiet. Mr. Kim said he feels his customers are being harassed, as well. "It's as if I have to search the customers, but even that wouldn't be enough," he said. Garrison said the biggest issue is that police believe the Kims are permitting customers to violate the law. Sunnyside Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck said officers have visited the motel for drugs, prostitution, gang activity and numerous other calls. "We have attempted to work with management and the problems persist," said Schenck. He said there have also been city code violations, such as over capacity. "Our hope is that the management will clean it up," Schenck said. Mrs. Kim said the claims that there are too many occupants in a room are false because those claims have been made when customers of the motel have had visitors. "The sad thing is sometimes we have no idea why the police are there," Mr. Kim said of the visits from police. He said police have demanded that he evict particular customers. "They don't tell me why, but they threaten me with a $1,000 fine," said Kim. He said those customers who are evicted often move across the street to his competitor's business. Kim said he doesn't believe his competitor is held to the same scrutiny because "...the customers are still there." Garrison said the challenge for the Kims is that there is another law that must be followed. That law is the Freedom from Discrimination - Declaration of Civil Rights (RCW 49.60.030). If the Kims violate that law, they can be subject to damages when individuals feel they have been denied "...the right to full enjoyment of any accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges of any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage or amusement." Mrs. Kim said, "We cannot change the socio-economic status of the residents of Sunnyside...we can't change the people, but we can try to improve the community." For her, it is difficult to feel as though the police are trying to help the community. She said she feels officers are harassing her and the customers of the motel. Mrs. Kim said officers patrol the area and feel as though police intimidate anyone on the property with "dirty looks." Mr. Kim said he has taken the step of canceling land line phone service to the motel because of claims that calls are being made from the motel to police. "We haven't called the police," he said, stating the reports of calls being made from the motel are false. Garrison said, "Mr. Kim, who grew up in Korea, feels as if he has fewer rights here than he did there...he feels it's like an occupying state." Garrison said the current case against the Kims is on the Sunnyside Municipal Court pre-trial calendar on Tuesday, July 16.


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