DA Reaches Unprecedented Agreement with Wal-Mart Concluding Investigation of Post-Thanksgiving Day Tragedy
Wal-Mart agrees to improved statewide crowd-management plan and provides nearly $2M to recovery fund and community grant
MINEOLA, NY – Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s investigation into a fatal trampling during an early morning after-Thanksgiving Day event at a Valley Stream Wal-Mart last year has resulted in an historic settlement with the world’s largest retailer. In exchange for agreeing not to prosecute Wal-Mart, the settlement will require Wal-Mart to implement an improved statewide crowd-management plan for post-Thanksgiving Day events at each of its 92 New York stores, set up a $400,000 victims’ compensation and remuneration fund, donate $1.5 million dollars to the community and provide 50 jobs annually to Nassau teens.
Rice announced the settlement at a press conference Wednesday morning where she was joined by Hank Mullany, Senior Vice President and President of the Northeast Division of Wal-Mart U.S.
The November 28, 2008 incident at the Green Acres Mall Wal-Mart store resulted in the death of Jdimytai Damour, 34, of Jamaica. The DA’s investigation also identified approximately 11 people claiming physical injury as a result of the incident.
Rice said that the investigation conducted by prosecutors and investigators in her office and detectives from the Nassau County Police Department revealed several areas in which the global company could improve crowd-management safety planning during their post-Thanksgiving Day events. The agreement between the District Attorney and Wal-Mart does not include an admission of guilt or wrongdoing by the corporation.
“No prosecution could have achieved what we have been able to do with this agreement. Rather than bringing the world’s largest retailer to court and imposing a small fine against them, I felt it was important to require significant safety changes that will affect the whole state. We are able to get expedient compensation for these victims and also get jobs for our community and more than a million dollars in funding for crucial social service programs that will help our local economy and our youth. Our goal is for the protocols that are set up to be the gold standard for crowd-management in this industry. It is clear to me that Wal-Mart is committed to both learning from this tragic event and improving its efforts to make their New York stores even safer for their customers and associates in the future," said Rice.
Safety and Planning Oversight
In agreeing to the terms of the settlement, Wal-Mart’s safety plan for post-Thanksgiving Day events at its 92 New York stores will be subject to a review by two independent safety experts. Working with Wal-Mart, the safety experts will evaluate and approve the crowd-management plans of each store. Wal-Mart will be responsible for complying with the recommendations of the experts. The independent safety experts have been chosen in a joint approval process by the DA’s Office and Wal-Mart. The agreement provides the DA’s Office with various tools to ensure compliance with or deal with possible breaches of this agreement, including the extension of the safety function to a fourth year and, in an extreme case, revocation of the agreement and resumption of the investigation.
“Most important to us is that a third party team of safety experts are in place to review their plans. They are experts in the field who know how to keep people safe and that will be their lone objective,” said Rice. “We are hoping that this safety plan becomes the nationally recognized model for crowd-management among all retailers and becomes an industry-wide best practice.”
Remuneration & Compensation Fund
A condition of the DA’s settlement agreement requires Wal-Mart to establish a $100,000 remuneration fund administered by the District Attorney. The fund will be in place to repay claimants’ out-of-pocket losses as a result of the crowd-related incident at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart during the early morning hours of November 28, 2008. Out-of-pocket losses are expected to include claims for damaged or lost property, lost wages, or unreimbursed medical bills associated with injuries sustained during the incident.
In addition to the remuneration fund, Wal-Mart will establish a $300,000 compensation fund. The compensation fund will be administered by Wal-Mart. The fund will be responsible for financially compensating those injured as a result of the crowd-related incident at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart during the early morning hours of November 28, 2008. This type of compensation could be provided to individuals with documented injuries including pain and suffering as a result of the incident.
Claimants to either fund will be required to file a sworn affidavit attesting to and verifying that the claimant was present at Wal-Mart’s Valley Stream store during the 2008 post-Thanksgiving Day event between 2:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., the nature and extent of any out-of-pocket losses suffered as a result of events during the 2008 post-Thanksgiving Day event and the nature and extent of any injury suffered as a result. Claimants who receive compensation will be required to waive their right to a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart.
The DA’s office has set up a helpline (516-870-2813), an email address (RecoveryFund@NassauDA.org) and an Internet link (http://www.NassauDA.org ) in English and Spanish to assist potential claimants. Wal-Mart has agreed to advertise the compensation fund in the daily and weekly newspapers covering Valley Stream and its surrounding neighborhoods.
“Because of this unprecedented settlement, we are going to be able to cut the red tape and get these victims compensation in a timely manner,” said Rice. “Facilitating the compensation is one of the main goals of this settlement.”
In addition to the crowd-management oversight and the victims’ remuneration and compensation funds, Wal-Mart has agreed to fund a $1.5 million grant to Nassau County social services programs and not-for-profit groups.
$1.2 million of the grant will go to the Nassau County’s Youth Board. The Youth Board is the funding and coordination agency for the County’s $8 million dollar per year investment in youth development. Not-for-profit agencies funded by the Board provide youth with career development, employment training and opportunities, and social skills that reduce at-risk behaviors.
“The Youth Board is a critical piece of the support we give young adults in our community. During tough budget times, their funding and their ability to fund these important non-profit organizations are placed in jeopardy. This funding will go a long way towards providing young adults in our community with the employment, education and social services they need to lead productive lives,” said Rice.
Wal-Mart also agreed to donate $300,000 to the United Way of Long Island’s Youth Build Program in Nassau County. Youth Build is a national program that provides unemployed young adults, ages 18 to 24, the opportunity to transform their lives and roles in society. The program enables participants to continue their education, learn job skills and serve their communities by building green, energy efficient and affordable housing. Students spend six to 12 months dividing their time between a housing construction site and an education facility, which provides high school and college education programs, job training and career advancement, leadership development, counseling and graduate support.
“This donation will allow this valuable program to continue during these tough economic times,” said Rice. “These are the kinds of programs that improve public safety and the quality of life in our communities. By giving young adults the skills that will help grow our communities and turn their lives around, we are investing in the future.”
Jobs for Nassau Teens
Wal-Mart has also agreed to provide Nassau County high school students with 50 jobs annually for three years at its five Nassau County stores. The jobs will consist of part-time employment during the school year and full-time employment during the summer months. Each year the DA’s office will provide Wal-Mart with a list of eligible applicants based on mandatory high school enrollment, academic standing, school attendance, a school recommendation and parental approval.
“It’s important to me for community businesses to be employing our community’s young adults. This agreement provides employers with reliable help and it allows students to build their resumes and earn some money after school or in the summer. This program will also give these young adults valuable work experience with the world’s largest retailer, while at the same time making the opportunity contingent upon success in school. I applaud Wal-Mart’s efforts to employ young adults in the communities of their stores.”
As a condition of the agreement, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office has agreed to suspend its ongoing criminal investigation of the company’s 2008 post-Thanksgiving Day event. In the agreement, Wal-Mart has not admitted any wrongdoing.
During the next three years, a failure to comply with any of the elements outlined in the agreement could nullify the settlement and subject Wal-Mart to possible criminal charges connected to last year’s tragic incident at its Valley Stream store. The maximum criminal penalty for a corporation convicted of a felony is $10,000. That amount goes down to $5,000 for a corporation convicted of a misdemeanor charge.
“Although the Valley Stream store had a safety plan, things could have been done better on the day of the incident,” said Rice. “This agreement will ensure that real substantive change takes place in the planning and implementation stages for these events. An agreement like this is important to help make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Leading the investigation for the District Attorney's Office is Executive Assistant District Attorney and Chief of the Investigations Division Meg Reiss. ADA Reiss was assisted by Economic Crimes Bureau Chief Diane Peress, Appeals Bureau Chief Peter Weinstein, Assistant District Attorneys Guido Gabriele, Andrew Garbarino, Rebecca Winer and Gordon Trabold, Investigators Charles Ribando, Josh Genn and Edward Maley of the DA’s Office, and Nassau County Police Department Homicide Detective William Brosnan.