The tenant of a 72-year-old local landlord claims the man came to her duplex month after month and groped her as he collected the rent.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Hamilton County Circuit Court, Sarah Hurst said landlord Colman Hochman began groping her one month after she and her boyfriend moved into the Eucalyptus Drive duplex in January 2010.
The monthly visits escalated over time from touching her clothes to Hochman reaching up her shirt in front of her 3-year-old child, Hurst's sister and a female friend, the lawsuit states.
"Several times I pushed this man off of me," Hurst, 31, said in a phone interview Friday. "And he still would not stop."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for "battery and emotional distress," court costs and attorney's fees.
Reached by phone Friday, Hochman said he knew of the lawsuit but had not yet read through it. Hochman said he recently reported Hurst to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services for neglecting her daughter and he suspected the complaint was Hurst's retaliation.
"It'd be better for me to read the complaint before I comment on it," he said.
Hurst said she has very little money and worried that Hochman might evict her if she complained. She's still living in Hochman's duplex, but said she is trying to find a new place to live.
Hurst runs an escort service called "Personal Encounters," which has been listed in the Chattanooga Times Free Press classified section since June.
Hochman said he knew of the escort business but did not talk with Hurst about it and assumed it was being run from outside the duplex.
The lawsuit states that Hochman arrived at Hurst's duplex to collect the rent each month from January 2010 to May 2010 and touched Hurst each time.
The lawsuit questions why Hochman came to the property in person to collect rent when he had an office.
Hochman said he has been in the rental business for 30 years and estimated he currently has 100 tenants. Some tenants don't have bank accounts or transportation, he said.
"I do a fair amount of collecting from individual tenants," Hochman said. "About a dozen, I collect by hand."
Hamilton County property records show 30 properties listed under Hochman or Hochman Family Partners. The partnership also is named in the lawsuit.
Hochman said he did not remember being the target of this kind of complaint from any tenants in the past. Circuit Court records do not show any lawsuits filed in Hamilton County against Hochman other than Hurst's complaint.
In June, the complaint states, Hurst told her ex-boyfriend, Ronald Ragsdale, what had been happening. He confronted Hochman and the landlord apologized, agreeing that Ragsdale could pay the rent and he wouldn't visit Hurst again, according to the lawsuit.
Hurst admits she doesn't have a perfect past. Hamilton County court records show that she pleaded guilty in 2003 to possessing marijuana and in 2004 to possessing drug paraphernalia.
Five years ago, Hurst was arrested in East Ridge on a prostitution charge.
She said the incident was a misunderstanding. She had worked for a year as an escort and told her date that night she was not a prostitute, she said, but shortly after he put money on the table police burst through the door and arrested her.
She pleaded guilty and received a one-year suspended sentence, she said.
"I think even though I have had a criminal record it still doesn't give him the right to put his hands on me," she said.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...