Recently an interracial family was forced to vacate their rented vacation property located at 1043 Ski Mountain Dr., Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The property is owned by Lori Daniels Barlow and Juan Jose Soto Vidal, and was rented through VRBO by a Caucasian member of the interracial family at a cost of $1,900.00, which was paid in advance.
The interracial family arrived at the vacation property on June 11 at approximately 5:00 pm. The family’s composition was three African American adults (Marsha Wheeler, the 75-year-old family matriarch, her daughter Yolanda Hobson, and her grandson who is enlisted in the U. S. military); three Caucasian females (one being the wife of the U. S. serviceman, and her two sisters); an eleven-year-old African American child; and three interracial babies. Upon arrival, the adults noticed that the owners utilized a smart home system, equipped with audio, cameras, and door sensors.
At approximately 3:00 am the following morning, the family was awakened by a loud banging on the windows and door. The family matriarch opened the door to see two police officers, who informed her that they were there to assist with an eviction and/or removal. The occupants were not provided any rationale or documents regarding eviction from property.
The owners Lori Daniels Barlow and Juan Jose Soto Vidal entered the cabin, at which time Juan Jose Soto Vidal verbally attacked two of the Caucasian family members, rudely contending that the property was rented for seven people. The family asserts that the property is listed as accommodating 10 people. The occupants included six adults, an eleven-year-old child, and three babies, which did not exceed the accommodation limits. Further, the property was rented for seven people because the family believes that the babies would not and should not have been counted.
The police officers and owners observed and acknowledged that there were no damages to the vacation property and no signs of any disturbance or disorder; however, the owners vehemently insisted that the family immediately vacate the premises. Marsha Wheeler (the 75-year-old matriarch) pleaded with Mr. Soto Vidal to allow her family to remain onsite until daylight, stating, “the children are crying … please don’t put us out.” Mr. Soto Vidal glared at her and rudely retorted, “I don’t care anything about those kids!” Family members were fearful and distraught because of the hostility and chaos.
After the occupants packed up perishable foods and other belongings, the policemen escorted them down the mountain, and the family was forced to sleep in a hotel parking deck until daylight, because there were no available accommodations to rent at that early time. Later in the day, the family was finally able to obtain other accommodations at a higher price and for a shorter period than the original accommodations. The family vacation was ruined by this traumatizing eviction.
The matriarch , a resident of Morrow, Georgia, has requested a police report but was advised by the Gatlinburg Police Department that they do not fill out police reports in civil actions like this. Although requested by the family, the owners have refused to refund the $1,900.00 advance payment and to return personal belongings inadvertently left onsite. Subsequent calls to the owners, the police department and to VRBO have been futile.
Family members–particularly the eleven-year-old child- from Atlanta Georgia-continue to be distressed by this volatile incident. The seventy-five-year-old matriarch was sent to a hospital Emergency Room due to the results of medical tests administered by her physician and is currently undergoing treatment for stress-related symptoms.
The family has concluded that this traumatizing eviction was racially motivated and that the owners became upset when they observed on the cameras that the interracial family included African Americans. The family also believes that this incident constituted improper use of the police department and welcomes the assistance of any entity in addressing this egregious matter, to ensure that no other family is subjected to this treatment.