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Cops Blame Wal-Mart For Trampling Death

January 5, 2009

 al normanAl Norman • Operation Itch Contributing Writer header
more in NEWS & ANALYSIS
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The police in Nassau County, New York released a report this week that clearly lays the blame for a Black Friday trampling death on Wal-Mart.

The worker’s death on November 28th took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island Wal-Mart store. According to Newsday, which says the plan was released December 31st, the police report suggests that Wal-Mart needs to be much better prepared than it was when bargain hunters took the life of a temp worker at the retailer’s 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 would not comment on the plan, but told Newsday, “We look forward to continuing to work with law enforcement to make our safety measures even stronger in the future.”

The latest report is the result of private discussions that took place in mid December at Nassau 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 of Jdimytai Damour of Queens, New York, who was called “a seasonal worker” byNewsday. 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 also note, “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 recommend 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 issue 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.”

Wal-Mart has been trampled with national criticism for its lack of a Black Friday security plan. The company is also facing a lawsuit in connection with the stampede. Nassau County prosecutors have been reviewing employee records and surveillance film of the store. No charges have been filed yet. Wal-Mart’s director of corporate affairs for the Northeast, issued a statement similar to the one that emanated from Bentonville, Arkansas: “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 Secuity 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.”

It would be refreshing if Wal-Mart just acknowledges its culpability in this case, and offers to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed against it immediately. The company was not prepared to handle the consequences of its Black Friday promotions, and ended up promoting mayhem and frenzy instead. In the process, Wal-Mart exposed its employees to dangerous working conditions, and a tragedy resulted. Wal-Mart should admit it, offer generous restitution to the family, and beef up its store security at all locations to protect both its workers and the shopping public.

The Nassau County police report points the finger of blame directly at Wal-Mart—but their recommendations will mean nothing unless they are implemented as soon as possible by Wal-Mart management. Otherwise, Black Friday will remain just another Black Eye for Wal-Mart.”
Al Norman’s website is http://www.sprawl-busters.com. He is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and the author of “Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart.” He has been helping communities fight superstore sprawl since 1993. 

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