The owner of the Fontaine Bleau, a former hip-hop club in Northeast Portland shut down last year after noise complaints and a fatal shooting, filed suit yesterday in Multnomah County Circuit Court against the city of Portland and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for pursuing “a campaign intended to thwart black-owned clubs or clubs that played hip hop and catered to the Black community,” according to a copy of the complaint.
Rodney DeWalt, who owns hip hop clubs in other states, moved to Portland in 2012 to open a club catering to the African American community. He's seeking to be reimbursed for the $420,000 he says he invested in the club, plus an additional $2.5 million in damages.
The Fontaine Bleau opened for business in January 2013 and generated a number of noise complaints in the ensuing months. That led the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Portland Police Bureau to ask for a meeting.
DeWalt says in his lawsuit that in October 2013, city officials told him he had to ask all his customers whether they were on probation or parole before allowing them into the club. And he had to keep a list of whether guests were affiliated with gangs.
The city also told DeWalt to set a dress code including banning saggy pants, to stop playing hip hop music and to keep a line from forming out front. They also said his security staff needed to control the noise and laughter of patrons within a two-block radius, according to the complaint.
Neither Mayor Charlie Hales' spokesman nor the OLCC could be reached for comment.
The complaint alleges that Portland police officers patrolling the areas also failed to tip off DeWalt when they knew trouble was brewing. One officer spotted two known gang members entering the club, but didn’t alert security staff.
In August Portland Police Sgt. Mark Friedman arrived at the club with a team of officers and told DeWalt that “the city of Portland does not like these types of events you’re having, it doesn’t like the type of music being played and the City will not tolerate it,” the complaint alleges.
“We don’t tell people how to run their businesses," Portland Police spokesman Peter Simpson tells WW. "We make suggestions on safety.”
On November 8, Portland Police received a tip that gang members would be attending a semi-formal event featuring special celebrity guest “Kimbella” from VH1’s Love & Hip Hop. But police didn’t forward that information to DeWalt, the complaint alleges.
That night police came to the club, where they identified several known gang members. Again they failed to tip off DeWalt. Security was tight that night, with six bouncers on the job.
When a fight started in the bathroom, DeWalt broke it up and evicted one of the men. As more people gathered, security called police. DeWalt turned on the lights and told everyone to leave.
As people left the club, 30-year-old Durieul Harris was shot and later died.
The next day the OLCC issued an Order of Immediate Suspension, pulling DeWalt’s liquor license.