A civil suit filed Monday in Charleston County alleges a North Charleston hotel’s staff handed a copy of a woman’s room key to a man who then sexually assaulted her.
The 28-year-old accuser, Kayla Denise Snipe, held a news conference Tuesday to announce the lawsuit outside the Embassy Suites hotel at 5055 International Blvd. accompanied by renowned women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred of Los Angeles and other attorneys.
Embassy Suites, Hilton Worldwide — the hotel’s parent company — and the woman’s alleged attacker are named as defendants in the suit.
Reading from a prepared statement, Snipe, a former employee with SFK Aero Bearing Service Center, said that she was sexually assaulted while at the hotel for a company Christmas party she had planned Dec. 14, 2013.
“A memorable night I had planned for my co-workers turned into a nightmare — I will never forget,” Snipe said, her hands shaking as she read.
Snipe awoke the following morning in a hospital bed, she continued. When she asked what she was doing there, the hospital’s staff informed her that she had been raped, she said.
Snipe had rented a room at the hotel so she could arrive early to prepare for the party and stay overnight, Allred said. The woman did not authorize or register any other individuals to have access to her room, Allred said.
According to Allred, the assault occurred as follows:
Snipe drank two lightly mixed alcoholic beverages prior to the party. She only drank a Sprite during the event so she could focus on hosting.
After consuming the beverage, Snipe began to feel ill and suffered difficulty walking, disorientation, an elevated heart rate and dizziness.
It’s not clear whether Snipe was drugged, Allred said, though her symptoms would suggest the possibility.
A co-worker walked Snipe to her room and she asked that person to return later to check on her.
A second co-worker allegedly approached the hotel’s check-in desk and asked for a copy of Snipe’s room key, claiming to be her boyfriend.
The hotel’s staff neglected to call Snipe before giving the man the key, according to the lawsuit.
Peter Steketee, general manager, of the Embassy Suites hotel, said in a statement: “Providing a safe and comfortable environment for our guests and employees is of the utmost importance to hotel management. Although we have not seen the lawsuit, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
North Charleston police arrested Stewart J. Middleton, 38, of Market Hall Street in Moncks Corner in February 2014 on a second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. A date for the criminal trial has not been set.
Columbia attorneys Paul Porter and Ashley Story filed the civil suit.
The hotel “owed a duty” and “was required to protect” Snipe, “its invitee and hotel guest, to warn and eliminate unreasonable risks within its premises including the plaintiff’s hotel room and common areas,” the court documents alleged. The staff gave out her room key “with reckless disregard of plaintiff’s personal rights to privacy and safety,” the documents stated.
Snipe is seeking damages for severe and continuing emotional distress, the costs of her medical bills, reimbursement for her hotel room, pain and suffering, stress, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, damage to reputation, shock and humiliation, the documents stated.
“There are so many ‘What ifs’ that have run through my mind, that I haven’t had a chance to just simply ask ‘Why,’ ” Snipe said during the news conference. “Why was it so easy for him to get a key to my room? Why did this happen to me? I feel that Embassy Suites did not care about my safety and that is why I was victimized.”
Snipe approached Allred regarding the alleged assault and Allred, in turn, contacted South Carolina attorneys to help build the case.
“We thought that this was a case that was important,” Allred said, “not only for (Snipe) but for other women.”
Allred intends to seek permission from the state of South Carolina to join the case.
The case is not the first for Allred involving a hotel that provided a room key to a woman’s attacker, she said.
“I do hope, however, that it will be the last,” she said.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.