Cobb County

Red Roof Inn denies sex trafficking allegations as jury selection begins for federal trial in Cobb

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — On Tuesday, jury selection began for a federal sex trafficking trial in a Cobb County courtroom.

Eleven survivors of sex trafficking are suing the Red Roof Inn, saying the company knew sex trafficking was happening at at least two of its properties, but did nothing.

While cameras were not allowed in the federal courtroom, Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Michele Newell was at one of the locations said to be involved near Windy Hill Road in Smyrna.

There, Newell shared how the 11 plaintiffs said sex trafficking was happening at the hotel, and another, from 2009 to 2018.

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The civil lawsuit bringing the 11 survivors and Red Roof Inn to court has more than 100 pages with what the survivors say they experienced at the two hotels for more than six years.

“You see young girls on the premises, you see men going in and out of rooms every single day. Potentially up to 100 every day,” Emma Hetherington, Director of the University of Georgia’s School of Law Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic, said.

More than a year after the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit against Red Roof Inn, jury selections are underway.

As Channel 2 Action News has previously reported, the lawsuit alleges that sex trafficking was happening at multiple properties in the metro Atlanta area.

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Hetherington said the trial could be the first of its kind.

“This could potentially be the first trial in the nation where the national brand hotel is held liable for knowing or should have known that trafficking was occurring on their properties and not doing anything about it,” Hetherington said.

She’s followed the case for quite some time.

“We know that possibly some of the money being made at those hotels was from trafficking,” Hetherington explained.

The allegations are centered on the Windy Hill Road Red Roof Inn location and another in Buckhead at North Druid Hills and Buford Highway, according to the lawsuit.

The court filing alleges employees at both hotels admitted to seeing teenage girls being sold for sex. At least two police reports detail the experiences of women who escaped from traffickers at the Smyrna property. In 2017, a guest at the same property told police that “she was kidnapped and force[d] into prostitution.”

“It does go all the way up to corporate and at the end of the day, they really need to be held liable,” Hetherington said.

Cobb County police told Newell they’d made 19 arrests tied to human trafficking from 2009 to 2018 but it’s unclear if any of those arrests were made at this Red Roof Inn.

In a statement shared with Channel 2 Action News, Red Roof Inn denied any involvement in sex trafficking or the allegations brought forward in court.

“Red Roof denies and will vigorously defend these allegations, and condemns sex trafficking in all forms. Red Roof mandates the globally recognized PACT training module to help educate hotel staff to identify and report human trafficking to the authorities. Red Roof is actively working with the hospitality industry through its alliances with AAHOA, AHLA, No Room for Trafficking Advisory Council, PACT and SOAP in the fight to eradicate trafficking and the exploitation of victims.”

Jury selection continues Wednesday in court.

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Michele Newell

Michele Newell, WSB-TV

Michele Newell has been part of the WSB-TV family since November 2021. Before moving to Atlanta, Michele worked at TV news stations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Ohio and Steubenville, Ohio.

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