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Fontaine Bleau nightclub in Northeast Portland
By Lisa Loving | The Skanner News
Published: 15 November 2013

In the wake of a tragic shooting that claimed the life of a local father of two last weekend, the Portland Police and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission have shut down the Fontaine Bleau nightclub.

The last known Black-owned bar in Northeast Portland, the Fontaine Bleau opened in January. The OLCC cited a “history of serious persistent problems,” listing five incidents over six months.

A spokeswoman for the agency said that is probably because officials rushed to get the closure notice out – it went up just hours after the shooting -- and they may have left incidents off the list in their haste.

She said another citation is coming against the bar and it will be more complete.

Durieul Harris, 30, was killed by an unidentified gunman outside the Fontaine Bleau in the early hours of Nov. 9; wounded in the shooting were Fredrick Glenn Conner, 44, and Shelia Renee Shelby, 50.

Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson would not comment on the investigation but no leads have been announced in the case.

Images taken by KGW show at least one woman in handcuffs on the scene but Simpson said there were no arrests.

A notice taped to the door of the Fontaine Bleau says the shutdown notice was delivered “in person” to “licensee Dewalt.”

The police are appealing to anyone with tips about the incident to call detectives; Simpson said he doesn’t know if officers talked to DeWalt or not.

After obtaining an attorney, Fontaine Bleau owner Rodney DeWalt would not comment for the record, but his associate, Black business advocate Skip Osborne, said neither Portland police nor OLCC officials have actually spoken to DeWalt himself about the notice or the closure.

Osborn says DeWalt spoke with both the victim and a man who was arguing with him before deciding to close down the club for the night; the shooting erupted as patrons were leaving.

In a telephone interview Tuesday evening before being advised by his lawyer not to speak with the media, DeWalt told The Skanner News that Harris “seemed like a nice young man” who had bought many rounds of drinks at the bar that night, and that he and the other man appeared to be arguing about money before he asked them to leave and decided to close the bar early.

Osborn said videos of the club’s interior that night have been released to authorities, and that DeWalt has cooperated with all city and state officials’ requests since it opened.

“When a Black man opens a bar or a nightclub in Northeast Portland, you know it’s going to get shut down,” Osborn says. “Every one has been.”

Amy Archer, livability program manager for the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, said her office, alongside police and OLCC officials, has been meeting with DeWalt since April but that he would not agree to take responsibility for incidents outside his doors; DeWalt’s supporters say he should not be required to do so.

“Our goal is not to put anybody out of business,” Archer said. “What we try to do is give people the tools to improve their business.”

Archer said last weekend’s incident is the first time the local authorities have been able to get the OLCC to issue an immediate license suspension, and that the ONI has been working with liquor control officials on making the process more effective.

“We have almost 3,000 licenses in Portland and most never have a problem,” she said.

The OLCC says it does not track liquor licenses by race.

The Skanner News has been able to identify just three other Black-owned bars or nightclubs currently operating in the city: Quartet, owned by Frank Taylor; Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar in the Hollywood District; and Olive or Twist, owned by Sam Fowler.

(Do you know of other African or African American-owned bars or nightclubs in Portland or anywhere in Oregon? Please send the names of the establishments to [email protected].)

In “The OLCC Hit List,” The Portland Mercury newspaper in 2011 reported on the “tiny fraction” of bar closures and drilled down into exactly how bars get shut down.

“Unless the city demands an immediate suspension, the OLCC waits until the bar's license is up for renewal, sends a letter proposing cancellation, and then sets a hearing date for six to nine months later,” Mirk reported.

“If the bar hasn't made progress by the hearing, another two to three more months pass until the OLCC makes a final decision. After all that, the bar can still appeal and keep on serving while its case lingers for months or years.” 

The OLCC’s suspension notice for the Fontaine Bleau says the club was over its 155-customer capacity on Friday night and that “a crowd of over 200 patrons” was in the bar.

Osborne says that when police arrived at the club early Saturday they asked a bouncer how many people had come in; the bouncer produced a clicker that registered 202.

“That’s over the course of the entire evening,” Osborn said. “There was a line out front where they were only letting people in as other people left.”

Documents obtained by The Skanner News show that the Portland Fire Marshal’s ‘maximum capacity’ posting for the Fontaine Bleau nightclub is dated Aug. 20, 2012 – five months before the club opened. DeWalt says the notice was delivered to his premises about one year after the date on the document.

Police report that no arrests have been made so far and “no motive has been determined.”

Anyone with information about this shooting is asked to contact Detective Bryan Steed at 503-823-0395, [email protected]; or, Detective Michele Michaels at 503-823-0692, [email protected].

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