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Wal-Mart Pays $2M Fine to Avoid Charges in Trampling Death

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.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who began a criminal investigation shortly after last November's customer stampede at Wal-Mart's Valley Stream store, 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. Rice 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 a $1.5 million grant to Nassau County social services programs and nonprofit groups.

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

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

Wal-Mart vice president Hank Mullany said, "The crowd management plan we are announcing today was developed by a team of experts whose experience includes NFL Super Bowls, Olympic games, concerts and national political conventions."

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.

Earlier this year, Damour's family announced plans to sue the county, retailer and others. The family's attorney did not immediately comment on Wednesday's announcement.

Any victims who accept payment from the Wal-Mart compensation fund will be required to waive their right to a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart, Rice said. Also, she said, Wal-Mart has agreed to advertise the compensation fund in the daily and weekly newspapers that cover Valley Stream and its surrounding neighborhoods.

"Facilitating the compensation is one of the main goals of this settlement," she said.

The company also agreed to an independent review of its procedures for post-Thanksgiving Day sales. The prosecutor said her office will oversee compliance.

"We are hoping that this safety plan becomes the nationally recognized model for crowd management among all retailers and becomes an industrywide best practice," she said.

The community grant money includes $1.2 million for Nassau County's Youth Board, which helps nonprofit agencies provide career development, employment training and other opportunities. The retailer also will donate $300,000 to the United Way of Long Island's Youth Build Program in Nassau County. The deal also calls for Wal-Mart to hire 50 high school students annually to work in its five stores in the county.

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