At least 9 claims of drugged drinks at Wine Country bar shock Healdsburg

The Facebook post appeared on April 3, the day after a woman’s Saturday night out at a popular Healdsburg bar, and almost immediately created a stir that has left many in the small Wine Country city reeling.

Her claim of being drugged while drinking there fueled a slew of similar allegations involving the same bar, Duke’s Spirited Cocktails. At least nine police reports have been filed since October related to incidents there, yet police have no suspects or concrete evidence to prove that recurring druggings are in fact happening.

While spiked drink incidents often lead to sexual assault or rape, Healdsburg police confirmed that none of the reports they’ve received alleged sexual misconduct of any kind, nor any physical assaults or robbery. As the investigation stands, the community of Healdsburg has far more questions than answers.

An outcry erupted following the Facebook post. The poster’s feed, and Duke’s own social media platforms, were flooded with comments by others saying they or someone they knew felt their drinks had been drugged at Duke’s in recent months.

“That’s the one thing we’re really wondering: why something like this is happening, what’s the motive, who is causing it and why,” said Sgt. John Haviland of the Healdsburg Police Department.

Duke’s owner David “Duke” Ducommun, who is cooperating with police and provided security footage from the bar from April 2, said he was not previously contacted by police regarding the earlier reports of drinks possibly being spiked and was aware of only one other incident in 2019, which was investigated and then dropped by the woman who reported it.

Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. A group of women are alleging that they were drugged at Duke’s.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

The allegations come just a year after the neighboring town of Windsor experienced a sexual assault scandal involving its mayor, Dominic Foppoli, whom multiple women have accused of drugging them before assaulting them. (Foppoli denied the allegations.) Healdsburg is historically known as a charming and sleepy Wine Country town with little nightlife. But its prestige as a Bay Area tourist destination has been on the rise. The allegations involving Duke’s could impact the city’s renaissance just as it’s gaining momentum.

Healdsburg police have confirmed that at least eight additional reports have been filed since last October from people claiming to have been drugged at Duke’s. Several of these were filed after the woman’s April Facebook post. At least one report came from a man.

Haviland said that there are no suspects, and that while past reports were investigated at the time, police are now in the process of following up with each person.

The Chronicle spoke with the woman who made the Facebook post and four other women who believe their drinks were spiked at the bar in recent months. The Facebook poster, whom The Chronicle agreed not to name to protect her identity, said that in the hour she was at Duke’s, she consumed two drinks. She said she didn’t remember calling her friend for a ride or the ride home. Once home, she said, she lay on the bathroom floor unable to move, see or speak, before vomiting all through the night.

Two women, Nina Jarnum and Maya Joye, told The Chronicle separately that they believe they’d been drugged at Duke’s on the same night, Nov. 13. They don’t know each other.

Nina Jarnum is among five women who spoke to The Chronicle, reporting symptoms associated with date rape drugs after visiting Duke’s Spirited Cocktails.

Nina Jarnum is among five women who spoke to The Chronicle, reporting symptoms associated with date rape drugs after visiting Duke’s Spirited Cocktails.

Photos by Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

Jarnum, a 44-year-old Petaluma resident, was out with a friend that night after having two drinks with dinner. At Duke’s, she had one cocktail and within minutes, “the whole world started sailing,” she said. Jarnum felt sick, ran out of the bar and vomited. Her friend gave her a ride home, after which she said she “fell flat down” on her bed and passed out. She didn’t wake up until eight hours later.

“I hadn’t budged. I was still wearing my heels,” she said. “Eight hours gone. Complete black.”

Napa resident Joye was at Duke’s that same night with her boyfriend and a group of close friends. She’d had dinner and one beer beforehand and then three more at Duke’s, where she spent roughly five hours. “It was enough to get me slightly buzzed or tipsy, but I was slurring my words,” she said. “I was very visibly drunk to the point that my boyfriend said, ‘It’s time to go home.’”

Once home, Joye, 27, said she vomited until 2 p.m. the next day.

The women’s stories are consistent with symptoms associated with date rape drugs, which include excessive drunkenness, gaps in memory, nausea and a loss of muscle control. Drugs like Rohypnol, the most commonly known date rape drug, typically take effect quickly, and the effects can last for hours.

Consistent with police reports, none of the women The Chronicle spoke with said they were assaulted or taken advantage of on the night they believe they were drugged. All of them said a friend or relative helped them get home safely.

Four of the five women told The Chronicle they believe they must have been drugged by whoever made their drinks but did not name a specific person. All said they either ordered the drinks themselves or got them from a friend they trusted and had not left their drinks unattended.

Ducommun said he’s reviewed security footage from other reports and that there was no consistency to which bartender made the drinks. He added that the bar’s 16-camera security system surveils “everything but the bathrooms,” including the drink-preparation areas. Police confirmed they didn’t see anything suspicious on the April 2 tape and have not yet viewed footage of other alleged incidents.

Haviland said that police are looking into multiple scenarios and that the next steps in the investigation will be to interview Duke’s employees, alleged victims, and community members and attempt to view security footage from other reported incidents. Police said they have also contacted the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Haviland said police have not received any complaints or reports related to drugging at any other Healdsburg establishments in recent months.

Duke’s faced criticism over the way it responded to the drugging claims and resulting concerns. The bar did not acknowledge the allegations for three days after the Facebook post. And when some community members took to Duke’s social media pages to express their concerns, the bar deleted several of those comments from its Instagram account, according to screenshots obtained by The Chronicle.

Ducommun said he deleted only comments that were “threats of arson against the bar” and “threats that were personal to me, my family and my employees.” But some comments reviewed by The Chronicle contained no threats.

Healdsburg resident Chloe Connaughton’s post was among those deleted. “I really hope you and your staff are taking precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Connaughton wrote. “People want to feel safe and trust their bartender, but it feels hard to trust anyone at your establishment when this unfortunate situation has become so rampant.”

Ducommun told The Chronicle that the bar has ramped up its efforts to make the bar safe.

He said he has increased security since the allegations came out and is adding two days on to his staff’s annual third-party training on customer safety.

Ducommun also said he has temporarily put in place an all-female bartending staff “to help make patrons feel more comfortable.” The bar has added QR codes in the bathrooms that link to resources in case anyone finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

“We should have told people immediately how much we care and what we’ve done to address this issue,” he said.

The woman who made the Facebook post last week and two others spoke with The Chronicle on the condition that their names not be used because they said they feared for their safety as well as backlash from supporters of Duke’s. Some of the women said they had already received threatening messages for speaking out on social media.

One 22-year-old woman described an incident very similar to those shared by Joye and Jarnum. She said last October she drank two cocktails and then didn’t remember anything after that; the next day, she felt very sick. A friend who was also at the bar that night confirmed her story.

One month earlier, a Santa Rosa resident, now 28, said she “blacked out” after having three glasses of sparkling wine over the course of several hours, which included eating dinner. The third glass was consumed at Duke’s. In the morning, she was vomiting, couldn’t keep food or water down and “had the shakes.” Her sister drove her to the hospital for treatment.

None of the women have been able to prove they were drugged via urine tests. While some of the women did go in for drug testing, they discovered later that they had not been tested for the drugs typically used to spike drinks, like Rohypnol, ketamine and gamma hydroxybutyrate. The others said they did not seek testing because they assumed it was too late. These tests, often referred to as date-rape test panels, typically need to be performed as soon as possible, as the drugs are known to leave the system within one to two days.

Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg is at the center of at least nine allegations of drugging in recent months.

Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg is at the center of at least nine allegations of drugging in recent months.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

Joye and two other women who filed reports with police expressed disappointment in the department’s initial handling of their claims, saying that they were asked few questions and did not receive any follow-up until the Facebook post prompted a new investigation.

“I felt like I was reporting a stolen bike,” said Joye. “I felt like she had no concept of what that did to me and disregarded it so completely.”

Haviland said that the Healdsburg Police Department prides itself on delivering “some of the best police service around” and encouraged those dissatisfied with their experiences to call back.

“Unfortunately in cases like this, if you don’t do as thorough of an investigation as you could, it’s hard to go back,” he said. “An accusation or report of this one time is extremely serious, and we need to do as thorough of an investigation as possible.”

The women interviewed by The Chronicle say they had no idea why they may have been targeted, or what the motive or motives might have been. Joye suggested that perhaps someone was spiking drinks with the hopes of taking advantage of a woman after their shift, while Jarnum theorized it might be “a desire to create chaos.”

“I’m just happy I was safe and I had someone to take care of me,” she said. “I keep thinking if I had not thrown up, would I have woken up again?”

Jess Lander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jesslander

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