By Travis Mounts
When news reports broke in February about an assault involving a state representative in Topeka, a number of questions were raised surrounding the facts of the case.
The representative involved, State Rep. George “Joe” Edwards (R-Haysville), said the main question concerns what he says is the Topeka Ramada’s efforts to hide potentially damaging news.
“They’re protecting the almighty buck,” Edwards said by phone last week.
On Feb. 12, Edwards watched President Obama’s State of the Union address from his room at the downtown hotel, which is near the Capitol and is home to a number of elected officials during the legislative session.
Edwards said that after the speech he went to his car to get his coat and some other items. He said the outside door to his room did not latch properly, and as he returned, someone hit him from behind and pushed him into his room.
“He said, ‘Don’t move, don’t look, don’t talk,’” Edward said. “His hand slipped over and I could see it was a white guy.”
He didn’t see anything else, Edwards said. He was robbed of $260 cash, but the alleged assailant did not take Edwards’ wallet or credit cards.
Edwards said he regained consciousness after 1 a.m. He called the hotel operator rather than 911.
“The phone says ‘Emergency – dial 0,’” Edwards said.
From there, the stories that Edwards tells and the hotel officials tell differs.
Edwards said a security guard told him the hotel would conduct an internal investigation.
“They did not contact the police,” Edwards said.
As reported in numerous media outlets, the initial report from the hotel noted security cameras did not pick up any evidence to verify Edwards’ claims.
Edwards said a hotel employee told him that their security cameras didn’t cover the exterior door to his room.
“They’re saying there is no video. They don’t want to show a video,” Edwards said.
Brett Oetting, senior vice president of operations Parrish Hotels – which owns and operates the Ramada – countered Edwards claims.
“There absolutely is a camera that shows all of those doors as well as the parking lot where he parks,” Oetting said. He said the hotel has invested heavily in security, including more than 30 security cameras inside and out – some of which record audio, too – plus two full-time security officers, extra lighting and computer monitored door locks that can tell when and who used a key card.
Oetting said the hotel shared video and key card information with the Topeka Police Department and is cooperating completely with authorities.
“We can say with confidence this is the safest hotel in Topeka,” he said. “We came to the same conclusion (as the police). They don’t see anything in the parking lot.”
Capt. Brian Desch of the Topeka Police Department said he couldn’t comment on what is or is not on the video because it is part of an ongoing investigation.
The next day, Edwards reported the incident to Topeka Capitol Police. The hotel made a report with the Topeka Police Department.
Edwards said that Capitol Police told him there have been other problems at the hotel – problems he says the hotel does not want to come to light.
“It upsets me that’s what they’re trying to protect,” he said.
Oetting said the Ramada is a busy hotel and convention center and is a safe place for all its guests.
“We’ve developed a close relationship with a lot of these legislators…through many years. We care about them and their safety,” he said.
Desch echoed Oetting’s assertions that the hotel is safe.
“We don’t have many incidents at that hotel,” he said. “I would describe it as a safe place to stay.”
Desch said the investigation is ongoing. He said investigators want to talk to one more person. If there is enough evidence, he said, the case will be presented to the Shawnee County District Attorney. The D.A. will then decide whether to pursue charges.