Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006

Reporter’s Notebook

A night at The Falls; the protest, and party, go on

By Lincoln Anderson

It was a Friday night in the neighborhood some realtor a few years ago dubbed Nolita, and for the fourth week in a row, a group of protesters — though fewer in number than the first week — were picketing outside The Falls on Lafayette St., demanding it be shut down.

Jeff Ragsdale — who started the protests after the Feb. 25 rape and murder of Imette St. Guillen, 24, who was last seen drinking at the bar — and a small group of four other men were standing in a protest pen as a Fifth Police Precinct community affairs officer stood a casual watch nearby. The pen was located about 25 feet away from the bar in front of a Subway store.

Ragsdale said he was looking forward to Wednesday, when Councilmember Alan Gerson plans to introduce a bill calling for mandatory background checks by the New York Police Department for bouncers. Darryl Littlejohn, 41, who was working at The Falls despite being a career criminal, has been indicted in St. Guillen’s murder. Convicted felons can’t work in liquor-licensed premises, unless they get an exemption.

“It’s going to do something,” Ragsdale said of Gerson’s legislation. “I’m sure it’s going to save a life.”

Meanwhile, Ragsdale — who isn’t a detective, but a writer from the Upper West Side — said too many things being reported about the night of the crime just don’t add up.

He said they aren’t buying the story that a homeless couple who claim to have been sleeping in Lieutenant Petrosino Park across the street on the night of St. Guillen’s disappearance were credible witnesses. The park is about 150 feet away from The Falls, he noted.

“From over there at 4 a.m. you wake up and see it, that she looked half-Chinese, half-Hispanic, what kind of earrings she had on….”

Also, Ragsdale notes how the stories coming out of the bar kept changing in the days after the murder. The first day after the incident, Daniel Dorrian, a manager at The Falls, said he hadn’t been working there the night of the murder. Three days later, he said St. Guillen had had two drinks, looked at a small note and left the bar without incident. Five to seven days later, Daniel Dorrian said St. Guillen had been at the bar, was intoxicated and that he asked bouncer Littlejohn to take her out through a side entrance, after which Dorrian said he heard a muffled whimper outside in the hall.

“And then these witnesses come forward,” Ragsdale scoffed. “So they have a story to have her out of there at 4:05 a.m. — so they can have it so nothing happened there.”

But Ragsdale suspects something more may have happened in the bar — in the basement.

“We think that something went on here. Why all these lies?” he asked. “And the New York Post found [the witnesses]. The Dorrian family has enormous connections with the New York Post.”

He noted that a Post reporter had been in The Falls the previous Friday blasted out of his mind, reportedly after having started drinking at 5 p.m. that afternoon. The Post reporter had come out and laid into the protest, which usually goes from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“He was yelling at us, telling us we should go to Jamaica. I know Jamaica, I’m from there,” said Moncy Matthews, one of the picketers and a graduate of John Jay College, where St. Guillen was studying criminal forensics.

St. Guillen’s battered body was found off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, near Jamaica, Queens, where Littlejohn lives.

Steve Dunleavy, the Post columnist and a friend of the Dorrian family, also wrote a column supporting the Dorrians for which his main source was their mother.

Inside The Falls, business was slow. There were only a few people at the bar and a few more at booths in the back.

The place is spacious, with lots of wood paneling, old-fashioned-style white globe lights and mirrors. A basketball game was playing — Memphis versus New Orleans — on several TV screens, including a large projector screen on the back wall, but no one was paying attention to Chris Paul’s and Pau Gasol’s dribbling and shooting.

Asked if he was Daniel — perhaps Dorrian — a bartender said, “No one named Daniel works here — I mean, tends bar here.”

He was very friendly, and had welcomed a newcomer right away, invitingly telling him to “sit at the bar.” Someone called the bartender’s name — Chris.

An attractive female bartender, a brunette with a ponytail and a bottle opener stuck in her jeans back pocket was also charming. She quickly refilled the newcomer’s pint of Guinness — well, at least halfway — after he clumsily tipped it over.

Business had been slow since St. Guillen’s murder, she admitted. But she expected it would pick up again, because, she noted somewhat sadly, people forget. She had been there a year and a half, because, she said, the owners were good to work for.

A pack of young men in their 20s rolled in, all dressed in preppy style, khaki pants with untucked, button-down shirts and short hair. They had a frat boy air, definitely not Downtown hipsters. A few big guys in the front stood at the bar as they got down to some serious drinking, quaffing tequila shots, interspersed with sucking on lemon slices.

There was then a furtive flash of a protest placard in the corner of the front window. It was 10 o’clock and the protesters apparently wanted to make their presence known before disbanding.

A woman sitting at the bar with her boyfriend abruptly jumped off her stool, seemingly making as if she was going to confront them. But after their brief moment of defiance, they were gone just as quickly.

“It’s a great bar. They’ve got great food. They make a great hamburger,” said the woman, who lives on the Lower East Side, declining to give her name, noting she works for a city agency, and adding that she loves The Villager.

She said she usually comes to The Falls around 6 p.m., and so isn’t around late at night. But she said the staff told her they really believed Littlejohn when he told them he was a U.S. marshal.

“They thought he was really good,” she told the newcomer, who had identified himself to her as a reporter.

When the guy who had spilled his Guinness told the female bartender he was a reporter, however, as opposed to earlier when she had chatted a bit, she clammed up.

“I don’t feel like talking anymore,” she said.

Chris was suddenly at her side.

“You can stay if you have a beer — you know how it works,” he told the reporter.

More beer or not, though, it was clear they wouldn’t be talking anymore.

Linda Herman and her husband, who live on 14th St., had been on their way back home from a dinner in Chinatown and decided to take a look inside the now-notorious watering hole. Her husband availed himself of the men’s bathroom — which, for the record, doesn’t have a spot of graffiti.

“I felt bad for the people that work there. It’s an awful feeling,” she said after they had left.

But do the people that work there know more about what happened early on the morning of Feb. 25? If they do, they aren’t telling. Not even if you buy another beer.

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