In Judge Douglas Golden’s courtroom on the third floor of the Creek County Courthouse is where Sapulpa citizen Muhammed Z. Khurshid, (ker-shid) found himself after almost two years of legal wrangling.
City Attorney David Widdoes was present for the City of Sapulpa, while Mr. Khurshid chose to have no legal representation. At Khurshid’s side was a Certified (in Tulsa and in federal court) Bangladeshi interpreter, Masood Kasim, who spoke perfect American English and, we can assume, perfect Bengali for Kurshid. The judge swore in the interpreter, asking if he would faithfully explain to Mr. Khurshid and faithfully explain from witness and proceedings in court for Mr. Kurshid. Understandably, the proceedings were somewhat slower than normal to give time after remarks for Mr. Kasim to translate into Bengali (the language of Bangladesh) and for Mr. Khurshid to consider.
After cautioning the attorney that the “burden of proof is on the city,” court case CV-201900014 began.
In his opening statement, David Widdoes systematically outlined the case for the City: the structures are “dilapidated, unsafe, and a detriment to the community.” Mr. Khurshid has been given “adequate time” to remedy the situation, but hasn’t done so “due to injury or neglect.”
The city is asking for an “abatement of a public nuisance…immediate order of abatement and removal of property.”
Mr. Khurshid sat listening, in a hoodie with a neat haircut and trimmed beard, while his interpreter spoke to him as he was offered an opportunity to make an opening statement. He said, “I have fixed a little bit.” That was all.
The City’s first witness was James Vickrey, the Sapulpa Fire Marshall. Widdoes asked him about his qualifications as a firefighter from 2005-2015 and then he became the Fire Marshall. Vickrey has completed CLEET training and is a nationally accredited Fire Inspector.
Fire Marshal Vickrey testified that he had conducted the first inspection at that location in the “winter of 2016,” following a citizen’s complaint that there was no heat. During that inspection, also attended by the building inspector, he found no heat and no smoke detectors. Further, Vickrey said that he had “gone out to the property several times” since then.
There was a public hearing at a City Council meeting in March of 2018, but Vickrey had not attended that meeting. Instead, Josh Wood, Assistant Fire Marshall was there. Fire Marshall Vickrey said the conclusions were that conditions related to fire safety included housekeeping, combustibles stored improperly, water heaters improperly stored, doors that wouldn’t open, stoves not vented properly, holes in walls between units, smoke detectors missing or not working, open junction boxes, extension cords used as permanent, portable heaters, and multiple adapters in use. The property “Failed” the inspection.
Since then, and specifically, since the May 2019 tornadoes, the buildings have sustained more damage including sheetrock falling down and attendant water damage, and 3 of the building are unable to be secured because the floors are so damaged. There have been no repairs or issues addressed. He recommended the buildings be removed.
Mr. Khurshid had no questions for the witness.
Next, Attorney Widdoes called Mark Stephens, who is the City Inspection Supervisor, since May of 2018. Prior to that, he had been the City’s Code Enforcement Officer. His credentials were reviewed, and he was asked if he knew of the OK Motel. Stephens reviewed Exhibit No. 2 which was a report dated March 5, 2018, which was the Fire Marshal’s report. Stephens testified he had been involved in inspections of all of the buildings, and agreed with the Report. He said that one more building was found to be “unsecured” in the last week.
At this, Mr. Khurshid waved his arms.
Judge Golden asked Inspector Stephens to explain, “unsecured,” to which he responded: “broken windows, and the door won’t shut…It is unsafe… to the surrounding community and a public safety hazard.”
Widdoes asked what it might take to make the property habitable. Inspector Stephens answered at great length that “wiring and plumbing all need to be replaced, new windows, new electrical, roof, new sheetrock, and (repairing) wood rot.” His estimate of repair costs? Stephens said, “$250,000.00”
“There has been no water service since December 2017. No water. There was a plumbing issue. There was sewage on the ground.” (The water was turned off for non-payment, then Khurshid turned it on, then the City turned it off and locked it. Khurshid hired plumbers to come out, and upon seeing the severe break in the sewage line, the plumbers wanted nothing to do with the repairs.)
Again, Mr. Khurshid was allowed to ask questions, but he declined.
The next witness was Sapulpa Urban Development Director, Nikki Howard, whose job it is to oversee city planning and abating public nuisances. In her time in this position, she has guided over 300 properties through the abatement process. She had inspected the property in the fall of 2017. There was no water service. In March of 2018, she accompanied the Fire Marshall to inspect again. She reminded the gallery that the property was (and still is) Zoned Commercial General (CG) but it was being used by Mr. Khurshid as his personal residence, living in the Manager’s Office, and renting out some of the other units. This was in violation of city zoning codes since it is not Residential Single Family (RS). She reviewed Exhibits No. 4,5,6,7,8 and said they were photos of the condition of the motel, showing “mechanical…plumbing…structural deficiencies on the property.”
She testified that the City Council in April 2018 that Mr. Khurshid should have “10 days to vacate and 20 days to remove dilapidated, unsafe, and dangerous structures,” when Rick Rumsey was Acting City Administrator. Howard stated that this property was not in compliance with the Sapulpa Comprehensive Plan (a written plan of the direction for growth in Sapulpa.)
Concluding with this witness, Attorney Widdoes asked, “If the building is so unsafe, then how is he still there?”
Ms. Howard answered, “I don’t think he should be living there. I don’t know how he is living there.”
Again, Mr. Khurshid declined to cross-examine the witness.
The last witness was Sapulpa Police Chief Mike Haefner, who was asked to make a special report for the proceedings. This was Exhibit No. 19, a comprehensive comparison of two motels in Sapulpa, the OK Motel and the Super 8 Motel. First, the report covered 15 years from 2004-2019 for the OK Motel with 12 units and the Super 8 with its 58 rooms. The most astounding information was in this time frame, the OK Motel had 461 police calls while the Super 8 had 130. This includes calls for 911s, DUIs, Assaults, Drug Possession, Shootings, Robberies, Rapes, and General Disturbances. The Super 8 reported no shootings or rapes, but the OK Motel reported 1 each.
At this remark, the interpreter spoke to Mr. Khurshid who frowned and nodded. Then, he listened and paused, then gestured. Mr. Khurshid said that most of the calls were from his motel tenants who were selling or using drugs and when he told them to stop, they would call the police to complain about him. (Later in the proceedings, Khurshid admitted that he allowed drug use on his property to stop the complaints to the police.)
Judge Golden said, “ That is a statement, not a question.”
After a 15-minute break, the Judge gave his decision. He found for the City, and against Mr. Khurshid. Judge Golden gave Kurshid 15 days (from Wednesday) to vacate the premises and declared that the property is to be demolished. (Either Khurshid can bulldoze the property himself, or the City will do it and add a lien to Mr. Khurshid’s vacant property value.)
The “Sapulpa Times” will continue to cover this ongoing situation, since Wednesday, November 27th is the next date to watch.