A shooting incident earlier this month at a teen-focused dance party is raising serious questions about safety and security as we move into summer – a time when the number of youth-focused events always increases.
As outlined in a recent Oregonian article, an argument outside an art space on southeast Madison Street that doubles as a dance club led to a shooting that injured five people, among them a 17-year-old girl. The paper reports that “a man standing outside the warehouse at the corner of Madison and Third Avenue fired at least two shots into the open garage bay and someone fired back at least five shots from inside.” Organizers say “about 200” people were inside the dance venue at the time for what was billed as the “First Official Teen summer Party.” The warehouse is also occupied by a number of other businesses and despite the late hour the newspapers reporting makes it clear that some of those other offices were also occupied at the time.
There were a number of people around the dance venue wearing t-shirts marked ‘Security’ but it is unclear what, if anything, they were doing. Citing police reporting, the newspaper writes that “officers responding to the original call encountered a chaotic scene, with people leaving on foot and in vehicles.”
In examining the legal issues raised by this incident let’s start with the question of security. Any venue operator has an obligation to make their premises both safe and secure. When minors are present the bar is higher. Any place where security is inadequate, or security arrangements negligent, is in particular legal jeopardy. This is especially the case if minors are going to be present.
The owner of the site cannot claim he did not know that minors would be present in large numbers, because, according to The Oregonian, he applied for a Special Use Permit that described the event as “Youth function. No Nightclub Type atmosphere.” That assertion allowed him to get a permit for three times the number of people the venue would have been allowed to host if the party had been described as “nightclub”-like. The reports that shots were fired from inside the venue means that a case can be made under ORS 163.575 (Endangering the Welfare of a Minor – see link below), and that fact alone raises other questions: were patrons searched before entering? Granted that the first shots appear to have come from outside, did the security arrangements take the nature of the surrounding neighborhood into account? Were the police called by the promoters as soon as the trouble began, or did they respond to other reports?
As a Portland lawyer specializing in injuries to children, there are also more basic issues I feel bear examination. Officially, the event was alcohol-free. If, for example, alcohol was present then the state’s social host laws come into play. It is disturbing that someone would receive a special use permit to stage a large event at such an unsecure venue (one that, the paper notes, may also have posed fire code and other basic safety issues). That fact alone merits serious investigation by city officials.
As the summer gets underway we should all be wary of teen events that may not be well organized or properly secure. Don’t take a promotional brochure’s word for it – check out the places where your kids plan to spend their evenings, and keep pressing local government officials to enforce the health and safety regulations on which we all depend.
ORS 163.575: Endangering the welfare of a minor