FARGO — Dominique Dewayne McNair’s life mattered, his mother Seevonla Domond said.
In the seven weeks since the 28-year-old was fatally shot in a parking lot west of Africa International Restaurant and Nightclub in Fargo, the Jacksonville, Fla., woman has posted numerous photos of her son online.
“Violence needs to be stopped altogether,” she said in a phone interview with The Forum.
Police continue to investigate McNair's death, but this case has been difficult to solve, said Capt. Chris Helmick, who leads the Fargo Police Department’s criminal investigations division. One challenge detectives face is trying to find people who can tell them what happened in the parking lot.
“I’m confident that there’s someone who was there that night who could come forward and tell us what happened, and we need that person or those people to come forward … and help us out with this,” he said.
Helmick declined to provide information on a potential suspect, citing a need to preserve the case’s integrity. No one has been ruled out as the shooter, he said.
Police have filed more than 100 reports in the case, which is more than usual for a homicide, he said.
Employees appear to have been cooperative, but management probably knows more than what they are telling investigators, Helmick and Police Chief David Zibolski said.
It’s a claim Francis Brown, a former business partner who helped open the restaurant, disputed in a phone interview with The Forum.
“I gave them statements upon statements,” said Brown, who was a manager at the time of the shooting. “I told the police everything.”
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Brown has resigned as a manager, but he insists the restaurant and nightclub is a safe place.
“I have nothing to do (with it) anymore. I’m done with it,” Brown said. “Probably me being the face is a problem.”
When The Forum attempted to contact the owners at Africa, staff said they would not comment. Employees also declined to take a message for the owners.
McNair's mother said she believes more police are needed to solve her son’s death. She also questioned Brown’s honesty and accused him of covering up for the club.
“I feel like Francis has made this worse than it has to be,” Domond said. “As a parent, it’s the most hurting thing for someone to call you and tell you your child has passed away. It’s even more hurting to know that my son died working for you (Brown), and you’re not even man enough to stand up and say, … ‘This young man did lose his (life) at my establishment.’ ”
‘He really never met a stranger’
McNair grew up in Jacksonville where he helped bring awareness to homelessness, Domond said. He stayed at a homeless shelter for a time beginning in December, she added.
He was able to secure grant funding for the shelter after documenting conditions in one shelter, she said. McNair went to another homeless shelter and helped them get blankets, food and other supplies.
“He really never met a stranger,” Domond said in noting that her son wanted to help others.
He then moved to Fargo to seek a better life, she said. She didn’t know he got a job at Africa until Brown called him to tell her McNair died, she said.
Authorities have not yet released details on what led to the shooting in the parking lot in the early hours of May 23 or how many people were involved. Police were reviewing video from multiple cameras when The Forum spoke with Helmick in late June.
The department also recovered several weapons, but investigators have yet to determine how they were involved, he said.
What is known is that at least three employees were allowed to carry weapons inside the club. McNair and another bouncer also had weapons that night and went out to the parking lot with guns to tell patrons to leave, Zibolski said.
McNair was not legally allowed to have a weapon since he was a convicted felon, Zibolski said.
Bouncers told police that Brown instructed them to clear the parking lots of people after the bar closed.
But Brown denied that as well.
“I would never allow my security to go into the parking lot to clear the patrons with guns in their hands,” he said.
‘Everybody had a gun’
Brown told police that McNair had been hired as a bouncer at Africa a week before his death, according to Zibolski. McNair was working as security the night he was fatally shot, Zibolski said.
Brown claimed McNair was simply hanging out at the club with a bouncer.
“He was not our employee,” Brown said, adding he never heard McNair’s name before seeing it in media reports. “I don’t know who this guy is. I never knew him. So we have nothing to do with it.”
Zibolski noted paperwork was not filled out to show McNair was employed, though he noted reports that most bouncers, including McNair, were paid in cash instead of being on the books.
Police stand by their statements that McNair was employed by the club, spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said.
Helmick couldn’t say whether employees having firearms in the club and bouncers taking them out into the parking lot to clear patrons was a contributing factor in McNair’s death.
“I think that anytime you have alcohol and firearms that are mixed together, that’s a recipe for trouble,” he said. “I don’t think having bar bouncers clearing out patrons, either from inside the bar or out in the parking lot, and having firearms present is a good practice.”
Domond said she believes McNair’s death could have been prevented had the bouncers and her son not been allowed to carry weapons in the club. She also said she was angry at McNair for having a gun at Africa.
“My son had a gun, the other bouncers had a gun, everybody had a gun,” she said.
Brown said the city never brought up issues about Africa, but Zibolski told city leaders he met with Brown on March 11 to discuss a bouncer interfering with an investigation into a Feb. 14 fight that happened outside the bar. The chief also suggested Brown purchase a card scanner to ensure no minors would be allowed in the bar.
Africa’s former attorney, Stephen Baird, previously told city commissioners he had taken over as the club’s general manager on July 1, the day the license was suspended. He said the establishment was working to fix the problems.
Less than a week later on Wednesday, July 7, Baird announced he left the managing position.
“Effective immediately, Stephen Baird no longer has any association with Africa International Restaurant and Night Club and is no longer employed by the business in any capacity,” the release said.
He did not provide a reason for leaving but said he had no further comment.
Police confident they’ll solve case
Helmick said he understands why people are questioning why solving this crime is taking longer than other homicide investigations. He said the department has a good track record of finding culprits.
The Fargo Police Department solved 21 of the 23 murder and manslaughter cases it had from 2016 to last year, according to data from the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office. That gives the agency a clearance rate of 91%.
Last year, the department cleared six of its seven murder and manslaughter investigations. The one case that remains open from 2020 is the fatal shooting of 41-year-old Santino Manjadit Makur Marial. It’s unclear if the Aug. 28 killing along a row of apartment garages at Cheyenne Estates, 1104 44th St. S., was random or targeted.
No suspect has been named in that case either.
Like McNair’s case, Helmick said he believes there are people who have information about Marial’s death, but they are not coming forward. People who were with Marial provided as much information as they could.
“But that’s not enough to solve this case,” Helmick said in urging people who may have information to come forward.
Like family and friends, detectives are frustrated that they haven’t found a culprit in either case, Helmick said. They will continue to work the cases as far as they can, he added.
“We don’t like unsolved murders,” Helmick said. “I’m confident we are going to solve these cases.”
Anyone with information that could help solve McNair’s or Marial’s cases is asked to call the Fargo Police Department at 701-241-1405. They also can text tips to 847411 with the keyword FARGOPD.