- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

MINEOLA, N.Y. | Wal-Mart agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $2 million and improve safety at its 92 New York stores as part of a deal with prosecutors that avoids criminal charges in the trampling death of a temporary worker last year.

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. She declined to say what charges were considered against Wal-Mart, citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

Instead, she said, the company has agreed to implement an improved crowd-management plan for post-Thanksgiving Day sales, set up a $400,000 victims’ compensation and remuneration fund, and give $1.5 million to Nassau County social services programs and nonprofit groups.

The agreement included no admission of guilt by Wal-Mart.

Ms. Rice’s office began a criminal investigation shortly after November’s customer stampede.

Jdimytai Damour, a temporary employee, had been on the job for about a week and had no training in security or crowd control when a crowd estimated at 2,000 broke down the Valley Stream store’s doors, trapping him in a vestibule.

Built like an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, the 34-year-old Queens man died of asphyxiation. Eleven others, including a pregnant woman, were injured.

Edward H. Gersowitz, an attorney representing Mr. Damour’s family in a civil lawsuit, blasted the settlement and said the family was never consulted before the deal was announced, a charge the prosecutor’s office denies.

“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,” Ms. Rice said. “Our goal is for the protocols that are set up to be the gold standard for crowd management in this industry.”

Details of Wal-Mart’s crowd-management plan for its New York stores have yet to be worked out. The retailer will work with two independent safety experts on the plan, and the experts will review it over the next three years. Wal-Mart will be responsible for complying with the recommendations. The prosecutor said her office will oversee compliance.

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