Volume 75, Number 43 | March 15 -21 2006

Villager photo by Patrick Andrade

An unidentified female friend of Imette St. Guillen’s left yellow roses and candles and two boxes of crackers outside The Falls last Friday night.

After ‘Falls murder,’ a flood of concerns about bar safety

By Lincoln Anderson

As police this week announced positive results for physical evidence linking bouncer Darryl Littlejohn to the rape and murder of Imette St. Guillen, protesters continued to call for the closing of the Nolita bar where the 24-year-old criminology student was last seen drinking before her death and where the suspect — a felon with a lengthy rap sheet — worked the door in violation of the law.

In addition, City Councilmember Alan Gerson told The Villager he plans in a few days to introduce legislation mandating Police Department background checks for bouncers, and will renew the push to allow off-duty, uniformed police officers to patrol sidewalks in front of bars and nightclubs.

On Sunday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed that investigators had concluded that blood found on plastic ties on St. Guillen’s wrists and ankles when her body was found off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn 17 hours after she left the bar showed a DNA match with Littlejohn, 41, and that the odds the DNA belongs to someone else are “one in a trillion.” Littlejohn, the prime suspect, was already being held by police for working as a bouncer in violation of his parole conditions.

Last Friday night, about 15 protesters gathered outside The Falls at 215 Lafayette St. near Spring St. to demand that the now-notorious bar be shut. There were almost as many police as protesters, with the police fanned out against the building walls to either side of the bar.

The protesters carried lime-green signs calling Daniel Dorrian — of the Dorrians bar-owning clan — one of The Falls’ owners, a liar for giving conflicting reports to police about events of the fateful night. Dorrian, who was tending bar, had asked Littlejohn to escort St. Guillen — who had wanted to finish her drink — outside the bar at closing time at 4 a.m. on Feb. 25. Only later did Dorrian tell police that Littlejohn had taken St. Guillen out a side entrance, after which Dorrian heard arguing, then a muffled scream. Police have accused Dorrian of hindering the investigation, giving Littlejohn time to conceal evidence.

“He hired a convicted felon, and obstructed justice for over a week,” said Jeff Ragsdale, a 30-year-old writer from the Upper West Side who organized the protest. “The Falls hired a career criminal — that violates the law.”

Felons are not allowed to work in bars. Ragsdale and his group are calling for “exhaustive” background checks for all bouncers.

Ragsdale — who also did outreach for the Lower Manhattan Residents Relief Coalition after 9/11 — said he has “no agenda.”

“This event can change the entire city,” he said. “But we need to get these politicians active — get off their silk seats and make something happen.”

Ragsdale said he planned to make the Friday night protest a weekly event until The Falls is put out of business for good.

Bill Crowley, an S.L.A. spokesperson, said The Falls’ liquor license is up for renewal on July 31. As for whether the authority might consider shutting the place down in light of the murder and the fact that Littlejohn was working their illegally, Crowley said, “Right now, at the request of the New York Police Department, the State Liquor Authority is temporarily suspending its investigation until the Police Department’s criminal investigation is complete.” Crowley said there are four ways felons can get waivers to work in bars, but that Littlejohn didn’t have one.

During the rally, an unidentified friend of St. Guillen’s — described by those who caught a glimpse of her as a young woman with dark hair and light brown eyes and wearing a green sweater — placed a dozen yellow roses against the bar’s wall — near the side entrance through which Littlejohn is said to have taken the victim. She lit four thin yellow candles — which she stood on the sidewalk in lemons with their tops and bottoms cut off — and also left two boxes of Bravos Vitarroz crackers, perhaps a favorite snack of St. Guillen’s. Police shielded the young woman from reporters before she hurried off.

Vulnerable position

Two friends from Williamsburg, both 50, standing on the edge of the protest said they came because what happened to St. Guillen sounded eerily like what might have happened to a young woman they came upon — almost exactly a year ago, in the same neighborhood, in the same condition — had they not intervened. The women said they had been returning from seeing a movie at the Landmark Sunshine theater on E. Houston St., when they found an 18-year-old woman in the subway station at Delancey St. and the Bowery — just four blocks from The Falls — drunk and incoherent, with her clothes awry, urinating on herself. She was trying to get to East Williamsburg and should have been on the L Train platform, but in her confusion was on the J/M platform.

“Somewhere around here, she was thrown out [of a bar], same situation, an out-of-towner,” said Michelle Kalil.

Kalil said she didn’t know what bar had ejected the woman, who was from California and had only been in New York City a month. Guillen — who lived on the Upper West Side and was a student at John Jay College — was from Boston.

“She was totally oblivious. They could have mugged her, raped her,” Kalil recalled. A Mexican man was trying to help the young woman, and seemed like he meant no harm, but the two friends decided to take matters into their own hands. They got a cab, took her back to Williamsburg, then got Kalil’s car and drove the woman back to her place in a deserted, industrial area of East Williamsburg. They found her mother’s number on her cell phone.
“I called her mother,” Kalil said. “I told her, ‘If you want to see your daughter alive, come and get her.’ ”

Her friend, Diana Fiorentino, added, “We see it all the time in Williamsburg. There’s a lot of young people in the city now. Young people make mistakes. When you are intoxicated, you lose control.”

Women killed leaving bars

Last year, another woman — also young, also originally from out of town — was murdered after leaving a Downtown Manhattan bar. On Jan. 27, 2005, Nicole Du Fresne, 28, an aspiring actress from Minnesota, was shot and killed at Rivington and Clinton Sts. on the Lower East Side when, after leaving Max Fish on Ludlow St., she challenged a mugger who had a gun, saying, “What are you going to do, shoot us?”

The Falls is in the area that some call Nolita. Across the street from the bar with its atmospheric blue backlit sign is Lieutenant Petrosino Park, in which a homeless man claims to have been sleeping on Feb. 25 before being awakened by the screech of Littlejohn’s van into which he says he then saw the bouncer lead a wobbly St. Guillen. A few doors down is Andre Balazs’s 1 Kenmare Square, a new luxury residential building with a sleek undulating facade.

One woman who came to observe the protest and declined to give her name said she prefers to hang out at Cipriani Downtown — or “Chips Downtown,” as she likes to call it — on W. Broadway in Soho.

“That’s a really safe place. They really take care of you,” she said. “There’s an elegant doorman, polite.” On the other hand, she said she never patronized The Falls, which she described as “drunk, 20s-, 30s-something, beer sticking on the floor to your shoes — just lets people get crazy, like a college bar.

“You need to tag team,” she said, advising women to use a buddy system. “You’re a woman, you’re vulnerable. I don’t think you should even be drinking alone outside your home. But I don’t believe her being attacked was her fault. It’s like blaming a victim for being raped because she was wearing a miniskirt — which they can do in France.”

As the protesters and police filled the sidewalk outside The Falls, inside the dark, wood-lined bar, about a dozen regulars were quietly downing their drinks.

“Are you drinking?” a beefy and unsmiling bouncer with sideburns like small scimitars asked a reporter. “If you’re not drinking, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” As the reporter departed, a customer at the bar hurled an insult at him.

Gerson initiatives

Councilmember Gerson told The Villager that in a few days he would be announcing a two-pronged effort to increase safety in bars and nightclubs. First, he will introduce legislation to tighten security checks for bouncers.

“The undisputed facts reflect fault lines and loopholes in club security,” Gerson said. His legislation would require Police Department background checks for bouncers and one licensed security person per premises.

“The law does not require any background certification, just self-certification [by bouncers] — which is absurd to rely on criminals to certify that they’re O.K. to do the job,” Gerson said.

He also plans to renew the call for what is known as paid detail — in which large nightclubs and areas with multiple bars and clubs would be allowed to pay the Police Department to hire uniformed, off-duty officers to patrol the sidewalks in front of their premises. Paid-detail officers in front of clubs would be good “both for security and quality-of-life purposes — to keep noise down, traffic flowing,” Gerson noted.

About a year and a half ago, Gerson and other councilmembers called for paid detail for bars and clubs, but the Police commissioner and mayor didn’t approve. Gerson said St. Guillen’s death might have been averted if the city allowed paid detail.

‘Out-of-control bars’

St. Guillen’s tragic murder that horrified the city came at a moment when antibar sentiment in Downtown neighborhoods has peaked as a result of oversaturation of liquor licenses doled out by the State Liquor Authority — which critics unfailingly point out lacks a city representative among its three commissioners.

Antibar activists joined Friday’s protest to add their voices to the chorus of calls for closing The Falls — and to put a spotlight on the need for S.L.A. reform.

“This bar has a reputation for being very noisy,” said David Reck of Community Board 2. “When the neighbors complained about noise, the complaints fell on deaf ears.”

Barry Mallin, an attorney who has represented the Soho Alliance in successful lawsuits against liquor license applications, said of the shocking murder, “It’s symptomatic of out-of-control bars.

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