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2009-05-09
Valley Stream, NY. D.A. Lets Wal-Mart Buy Its Way Out of Criminal Charges In Trampling Death

On January 3, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that the police in Nassau County, New York had released a new plan designed to prevent the recurrence of a trampling death that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island Wal-Mart. According to Newsday, which says the plan was released December 31st, the new report will require Wal-Mart to be much better prepared than it was when bargain hunters took the life of a temporary worker at the retailer's Valley Stream store. Nassau County Police want Wal-Mart to plan thoroughly, arrange for efficient crowd control and engage in clear communication, to prevent another tragedy. Wal-Mart responded by saying, "We look forward to continuing to work with law enforcement to make our safety measures even stronger in the future." The new report was the result of private discussions that took place in mid December at police headquarters, attended by 75 representatives from area department stores and malls. The retailers and the police were under pressure to demonstrate that some reforms would be made in the wake of the death November 28, 2008 of Jdimytai Damour of Queens, who was called "a seasonal worker" by Newsday. Wal-Mart officials were at the closed-door meeting at the Nassau police station. In their report, Nassau police said they will respond and assist when needed, "but the responsibility for the security and control of these sales events rests with the store. Store administrators should never market a sales event without having a plan, and the proper resources to manage it." The police report also notes, "history has shown that large-scale events can turn from an orderly gathering to chaos as the doors open. Ultimately the goal is to provide a safe and comfortable shopping experience for patrons." This requires "cooperation from the business owners, mall security, contract security employees and law enforcement. These special sales pose unique challenges to the business owner, mall owner and those who are charged with providing security for the event." The Nassau County police recommended that retailers should: 1) begin planning months before the sales event 2) make sure enough trained employees are present 3) request an "intensive patrol" from the local police, and alert officers of large or unruly crowds 4) communicate with waiting customers with signs and announcements 5) set up barricades or rope lines that reduce the risk of a crowd surge or stampede 6) hand out wristbands or numbered tickets as customers arrive 7) allow customers to enter in small groups 8) have automated external defibrillators, and trained staff, on hand. Just before Christmas, there was a rally held in front of the Valley Stream Wal-Mart. A group called the Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told the media: "This wasn't the crowd's fault. Wal-Mart should have had a plan in place to deal with this difficult situation." The demonstrators held candles and signs, and wore pins with Damour's face that read "Black Friday kills." A spokesman for the group The Workplace Project, said Wal-Mart's Black Friday failings were just part of a larger issues with its workforce. "I hope that [shoppers] don't go into Wal-Mart," a spokesman told Newsday. "If they do go into Wal-Mart, they should think about how they're walking where someone's blood was spilled." This week the press widely reported that Wal-Mart had bought itself out of this trampling death with roughly $2 million in corporate funds. The retailer agreed to improve safety at its New York state stores as part of a deal that will avoid all criminal charges against the company. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said that if she had brought criminal charges against the retailer in the worker's death, the company would have been subject to only a $10,000 fine if convicted. Instead, the D.A.'s office worked out a deal in which Wal-Mart agrees to improved crowd-management plans for post-Thanksgiving Day sales, and creates a $400,000 victims' compensation and remuneration fund. As another face-saving payoff, Wal-Mart will give $1.5 million to Nassau County social services programs and nonprofit groups. D.A. Rice called this agreement "historic." The D.A. deal allowing Wal-Mart to buy itself out of criminal prosecution, did not sit well with the victim's family. "It's like if they were driving a car and they hit someone, killed him and then just walked away," said Ogera Charles, the father of Jdimytai Damour. The father of the victim noted that the deal leaves him in the dark as to what the investigation of the incident actually found. "It is the epitome of corporate arrogance that Wal-Mart can reach an agreement without admitting their responsibility, and walk away," Attorney Andrew Libo, who is representing the family, told Newsday. The D.A.'s office defended the Wal-Mart buyout, saying the victim's family has access to everything the prosecutors found.

What you can do: Newsday wrote in an editorial on May 7th that the D.A.'s office had "cut a deal" with Wal-Mart, and expressed concern that Wal-Mart used money to avoid criminal charges. "But the unusual deal raises an uncomfortable question: Was Wal-Mart allowed to buy its way out of criminal responsibility?" The editorial pointed out that "there is nothing in the deal that should compromise lawsuits by Damour's family, or anyone else. It won't hurt Rice's re-election prospects either." Although Newsday admitted that the deal was an "unorthodox arrangement," the improved safety plan for shoppers across New York state was a good outcome. The newspaper suggested that Damour should have a youth program named in his memory. Wal-Mart has been barraged with national criticism for its lack of a Black Friday security plan. The company is still facing a lawsuit in connection with the stampede. After the death, Wal-Mart's director of corporate affairs for the says, "We are looking forward to working with local law enforcement officials, as well as lawmakers and other retailers to implement even stronger safety measures for Black Friday going forward." Five days after the incident in Valley Stream, the family of Jdimytai Damour filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming Wal-Mart, mall owner Vornado Realty Trust, and Securitas Security Services USA as defendants in its Bronx Supreme Court filing. The Security company named was reportedly providing security and patrol services at the Valley Stream store. The lawsuit charges that the defendants "created an atmosphere of competition and anxiety amongst the crowd that caused the crowd to surge and enter into a crowd craze" and "engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem." The lawsuit also says that Wal-Mart and the other defendants failed to provide adequate security and properly train or supervise existing security personnel, and used ineffective crowd control. The mall's owner, Vornado Realty Trust, issue a statement to the media which said, "We are saddened by the tragic occurrence, but we do not comment on pending or threatened litigation." Readers are urged to email Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice at http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/DA/contact.html with the following message: "Dear District Attorney Rice, By allowing Wal-Mart to escape any criminal responsibility for the trampling death at Valley Stream, you have sent a message to corporations everywhere there is a negotiated price for avoiding a criminal record. How many other private citizens would love to pay their way out of criminal prosecution? No one will object to a victim's compensation fund, or corporate donations to local charities -- but the fundamental legal responsibility for Wal-Mart to protect the safety of its workers and its shoppers has now been brushed aside for what amounts to a pretty cheap pricetag for Wal-Mart. Even if Wal-Mart had been prosecuted and fined $10,000 -- it would have sent a stronger message to retailers that to avoid criminal charges, they better enhance their crown control plans for major sales events. It would have been a clearer message to the public that Wal-Mart had been found criminally negligent, than to have them emerge with no charges from the tragic incident. You have left the family to pursue its punitive damages lawsuit, and instead 'done a deal' with Wal-Mart that puts money over justice. The size of the fine was never the issue here: it was the admission of criminal negligence that had no price tag. Now the lingering memory of this event is that Wal-Mart was able to buy its freedom from prosecution. This makes your office look complicit in a money-for-innocence deal. Wal-Mart was clearly not prepared to handle the consequences of this Black Friday promotion, and ended up promoting mayhem and frenzy instead. The company exposed its employees and customers to dangerous store conditions, and a tragedy resulted. Now, because of this deal, this Black Friday tragedy will remain a Black Eye not only for Wal-Mart, but for the Nassau County D.A.'s office as well."










 
 
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