Last Call for the Falls?
The Falls bar was nearly empty Monday night, and business didn't get any better after four TV news trucks rolled up in the rain to film a hasty press conference called by community activists. They were exulting in the news that the State Liquor Authority has initiated proceedings that could revoke the bar's liquor license.
"In a couple of days, thankfully, this hellhole will be closed for good," declared Jeff Ragsdale, an Upper West Side writer, standing in front of the bar's newly painted facade, where the big Falls sign is now conspicuously absent. Ragsdale has become a nonstop crusader on behalf of Imette St. Guillen, the honor student from John Jay College who prosecutors allege was brutally raped and strangled by Falls bouncer Darryl Littlejohn. (Littlejohn, who was charged last month with abducting another young woman in Queens, continues to maintain his innocence.)
According to CBS News and other sources, the agency will cite Falls owner Michael Dorrian and his partners for illegally hiring Littlejohn, a seven-time convicted felon, to work as a bouncer, and for failing to disclose that he was asked to escort St. Guillen out of the bar at closing, the last time she was seen alive.
Those charges could result in the bar's liquor license being pulled—an action that could shutter any other bar where owner Michael Dorrian has a proprietary interest, including his swanky restaurant Barna, on Park Avenue.
But while the media are playing this as a done deal, it's not. Once the charges are filed, Dorrian and his partners have two weeks to respond. If Dorrian pleads not guilty, the case will go before an administrative law judge to hear the facts, and then to the full state liquor board for final determination. If Dorrian pleads guilty or no contest, the case will go directly before the board, which will decide on a penalty.
The laws in play here are slippery. It's illegal to "knowingly" hire a felon to work as a bouncer, but bar owners aren't required to perform background checks. And though manager Daniel Dorrian is reportedly being cited for allegedly misleading the police in their investigation, in violation of state law, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has already said he won't prosecute him for it. ("I've been lied to before," Hynes joked. "I'll get over it.)
The State Liquor Authority is already under fire from local residents and political leaders for the proliferation of bars downtown. And as the Voice reported two months ago, the Dorrian clan has plenty of adverse history as to consider. The family's uptown saloon Dorrian's Red Hand is where the underage "preppie killer," Robert Chambers, met Jennifer Levin on the night he killed her two decades ago.
Brother John Dorrian didn't earn much sympathy when he lashed out at St. Guillen's aggrieved mother for announcing plans to sue the Falls, along with the state and federal parole boards for failing to supervise Littlejohn, who was on parole for armed robbery and violating his curfew to work at the Falls.
"She should be grieving for her daughter, instead she's suing my brother," John Dorrian told the Post on Saturday. "If she gets $10 million from the city, will she be happy? Her daughter's dead," he added. "She's doing this for the press."
Certainly the family has hired a mediagenic attorney: Joseph Tacopina, who is also representing disgraced Post gossip columnist Jared Paul Stern.
But Tocapina insists Imette's mom Maureen St. Guillen isn't in it for the money, and says the family's main aim was to "pursue legislative change, so that Imette doesn't die in vain."
"It's our position that the owners [of the Falls] are certainly culpable," Tacopina said, without naming names. "They hired somebody who has a felony record and put a predator into the mix. Then they violated the law again when they didn't come clean with the police, and gave false and misleading statements," Tacopina added, referring to Daniel Dorrian. "That to me is an even bigger offense."
Tacopina said the family would apply any settlement money toward the charities set up in Imette's name, and to "close the loopholes in the system that allowed Littlejohn to slip through."
He said the family is setting up meetings with state legislators to press for mandatory background checks of all bouncers—to be financed by the bar owners. They also want funds allocated to lessen the caseloads of overburdened parole officers, and to develop a "LInX" database linking state and federal agencies, so that rap sheets and parole records can be shared.
None of the Dorrian brothers were at the Falls Monday night to comment on the state charges pending against the bar, or all the allegations being thrown out by the protesters.
"We're just trying to run a business and make some money here," said the bartender on duty as he pulled shut a pair of red curtains to shield the bar's half dozen patrons clustered inside the Falls from the camera crews peering inside. One customer stalked past the demonstrators and kicked in a stack of protest signs leaning against the building next door. Another drunken man, from New Zealand, threatened to "bash in the head" of a photographer snapping pics from the sidewalk.
"What are they here for? I just got here three days ago, so I'd like to know," the New Zealander demanded. When told that people were angry that the bar had hired a convicted felon who allegedly raped and strangled a woman, he let out an "oh."
"But you can't tell me the bar meant for that to happen," he said.