Jailed Fraser motel owner, son file multimilliondollar lawsuit

City of Fraser, Fraser DPS, DTE Energy among those sued

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 16, 2016

 The Flamingo Motel has been in Fraser since its construction around 1952, sitting along Groesbeck Highway.

The Flamingo Motel has been in Fraser since its construction around 1952, sitting along Groesbeck Highway.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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DETROIT/MACOMB COUNTY — The next chapter in the saga of the Flamingo Motel is currently underway.

A lawsuit was recently filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan, in Detroit, in which plaintiffs Eric Gala and Chester Gala have sued numerous parties on multiple grounds.

Defendants listed in court documents are the city of Fraser, the Fraser Department of Public Safety, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, Fraser Police Chief George Rouhib, former Fraser Lt. Dan Kolke, Fraser police officers Jason Poole and Christopher Ashley, and DTE Energy Co.

The lawsuit seeks $150 million in regard to due process and equal protection rights, as well as $3 million in damages for Eric Gala’s son, Chester, and $1.5 million from DTE Energy for negligence.

The Galas are represented by Mayer Morganroth and Daniel Harold, of Morganroth & Morganroth, PLLC, in Birmingham.

Eric Gala is the owner and operator of the Flamingo Motel in Fraser. Chester is currently a college student at Harvard University.

The lawsuit’s general allegations claim that the city of Fraser engaged in a series of actions that were attributed to racism within city limits.

The 43-room motel was constructed around 1952, when Fraser was still identified as Erin Township. Eric’s father, also named Chester, was the owner and operator at that time.

Allegations say that the motel “operated on a nondiscriminatory basis,” employing minorities during heightened years of segregation.

It’s alleged that the near-100 percent white population of Fraser, which annexed Erin Township around 1962, was opposed to the motel’s existence due to its alleged involvement with the black community. The lawsuit states that between 1962 and 1976, the Fraser DPS reportedly engaged in “a series of actions that were designed to force the Flamingo Motel to either cease its business operation or stop employing and renting rooms to black people.”

Such actions attributed include an alleged pattern of practices of constant monitoring of motel grounds, including pulling over and ticketing guests and employees who were associated with the motel. The actions of the guests and employees were in vain because they did nothing illegal, the lawsuit states.

It wasn’t until the elder Chester Gala reportedly became close friends with Morris Gruskin, of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, that police harassment allegedly ceased. The elder Gala also allegedly became friends with Macomb County Prosecutor George Parris, who reportedly helped alleviate the situation until about 1999.

Numerous other allegations involving the DPS and specific officers were also made.

“At this time I cannot comment on these false accusations,” Rouhib said.

The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office was named in the lawsuit for allegedly depriving the younger Chester Gala of fundamental constitutional rights related to due process and equal protection, related to a criminal misdemeanor charge in interaction with DTE Energy employees.

It’s alleged that DTE official and Fraser zoning commissioner Kent Stonebreaker sent two contract employees to the Galas’ Lenox Township residence in June 2015. The lawsuit claims the contractors trespassed on the Galas’ property prior to threatening and assaulting Chester Gala, who was 19 years old at the time.

DTE allegedly shut off the Galas’ power, even though all energy payments were made.

“DTE denies the allegations in the Galas’ complaint, and specifically denies any trespass or assault against Chester Gala or that the shutoff was improper,” DTE Media Relations Manager Stephanie Beres said. “It is our understanding that Chester Gala has been charged criminally relative to the Lenox Township incident, and that his case is set for trial in October 2016.”

Due process and equal protection were deprived, the lawsuit states, as Chester could not properly be identified as a witness during his father’s appearances for other matters in 39th District Court and in Macomb County Circuit Court.

Eric Gala is currently serving a six-month sentence in Macomb County Jail related to parental abuse charges, in relation to his late mother, Norma.

In November 2013, Fraser police raided the motel and removed 78-year-old Norma and the elder Chester, who was 92 at the time. 

Eric Gala was later charged with two counts of vulnerable adult abuse — one count for each parent — for allegedly tying up his parents in a motel room consisting of unsanitary conditions. At the time of the arrest Fraser police said Norma and Chester were found lying in their own feces and urine, in a room that was dark and not heated.

In December 2015, a jury found Eric Gala guilty of abuse against his mother, though he was not guilty of abuse against his father. The jury was deadlocked when it came to the charge of embezzlement of more than $100,000, when Eric was the guardian and conservator of Norma.

The embezzlement charges of approximately $230,000 is still ongoing in circuit court.

Morganroth, who has represented high-profile clients such as Jack Kevorkian and Coleman Young, said the lawsuit is decades in the making.

“For each supposed count of abuse, there was a very strong reason why the jury was misled,” Morganroth said. “The jury was told by the witnesses that none of those things existed that they were talking about. The mother died as a result of mistreatment in the nursing home.”

Morganroth alleged that the nursing home gave her Lipitor, even though Eric told them she was allergic to it. He also alleged that the day Norma died, nurses didn’t see her for seven hours even though her illness was obvious.

In terms of the negligence allegations against DTE Energy, Morganroth said it was a “your word against theirs” situation that favored the company. He claimed DTE was presently committing similar acts against others as well.

“(DTE contractors) went to the house, bills were paid and current, they did not show their identity to Chester and refused to give their names and tell them who they were,” he said. “They said, ‘Our name is DTE’ and trespassed on the property.”

Morganroth said the specific amounts being sought by each listed party is attributed to the computation of actual financial losses, as well as punitive damages for wrongdoing. He said the Gala family has been deprived of great income for many years.

“Conduct (by all parties) was outrageous, and it would have been a lawsuit either way. That’s why I was brought in,” Morganroth said. “I feel quite confident. There’s so much evidence it’s unbelievable.”

A conference is scheduled for March 25 in front of Judge John Corbett O’Meara.

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