The mother of Kenneka Jenkins, the young woman from Chicago who was found dead in a freezer at a Rosemont hotel, has filed a long-anticipated lawsuit against the hotel, its security contractor and even a restaurant that allegedly was renting the space where Jenkins was found.
The lawsuit claims the defendants — the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel, Capital Security and Investigations and the Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant — were negligent for failing to secure the freezer, located in an unused kitchen, and for failing to conduct a proper search when Jenkins went missing from a party.
The family is seeking a judgment in excess of $50 million, the lawsuit says.
Jenkins, 19, disappeared in the early morning of Sept. 9, 2017, after attending a party held in a room of the Crowne Plaza. Her family came looking for her, but authorities didn’t find her body until 20 hours later. Surveillance video released by police showed Jenkins stumbling through the hotel’s hallways until she ended up in the kitchen, rounding the corner where the freezer was kept.
An autopsy report from the Cook County medical examiner’s office concluded that Jenkins died of hypothermia, with alcohol and a drug used to treat epilepsy and migraines “significant contributing factors.”
Representatives of the hotel, the security company and the restaurant did not immediately return requests for comment. Jenkins’ mother, Tereasa Martin, did not immediately respond to a phone message, and her attorney declined comment.
The lawsuit contains new claims about the circumstances of Jenkins’ death. It says the hotel had other walk-in freezers that were kept locked and inaccessible to the public. The one in which Jenkins was found was not only unsecured but had “a sticker affixed that was completely faded and failed to instruct how to release the lock system of the door,” the lawsuit contends.
Rosemont police found in their investigation that the door could not be opened from the inside unless a circular handle was pushed to release the latch. The mechanism appeared to be working properly, police said.
The lawsuit also claims that Jenkins passed several hotel employees while she was wandering the hallways.
“Had Crowne Plaza defendants and employees and/or agents of defendant Capital Security properly intervened when they observed (Jenkins) visibly disoriented, confused and lost within their premises, they would have prevented her from entering the abandoned kitchen and prevented her death,” it says.
The lawsuit blames the security company for failing to stop the party Jenkins attended before wandering away. Dozens of people were hanging out in a room meant for just four guests, a smoke detector had been disabled and the odor of “strong intoxicants” was evident, it says.
If security guards had promptly broken up the party, the lawsuit contends, Jenkins would not have died.
The lawsuit claims the hotel and security company also did not review security camera footage with sufficient speed after Jenkins went missing. That alleged lack of urgency sparked weeks of protests outside the hotel and contributed to online conspiracy chatter that remains robust.
Though the Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant didn’t open until April, about seven months after Jenkins died, a news release from the company indicates it signed a deal in July 2017 to lease space in the hotel. The lawsuit says the restaurant should have secured the kitchen and made sure the empty freezer was turned off.
The Beam Legal Team in Chicago filed the lawsuit, but a lawyer for the firm said the case will be handled by prominent Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, best known for representing the late “right to die” advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.