It’s last call for The Falls as S.L.A. set to pull license


By Jefferson Siegel

The Falls may be in for a fall.

The State Liquor Authority has begun a process that could lead to revocation of the Lafayette St. bar’s license. The Soho watering hole gained notoriety as the last place college student Imette St. Guillen, 24, was seen alive on Feb. 25. Seventeen hours after she was said to have left The Falls, her body was discovered in a remote area of Brooklyn. A bouncer who worked at the bar, Darryl Littlejohn, has been charged with her murder.

William Crowley, an S.L.A. spokesperson, said that on Tuesday the authority issued what is known as a notice of pleading to The Falls, which formally charges the bar owners with violations of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.

The pleading charges The Falls with seven violations of the A.B.C. Law, including two counts of providing false or misleading information during a police investigation, knowingly employing a felon, employing unlicensed security staff, failure to testify under oath before the S.L.A., failure to maintain adequate books and records and improper use of the trade name “The Falls.”

“We give them at least two weeks to respond. They have to respond by June 9,” Crowley said.

Crowley said the S.L.A. investigation of the bar began the same time as the New York Police Department began to investigate. He said the Police Department asked the S.L.A. to hold off on their investigation until the criminal investigation was concluded.

“We’ve been in contact with the police on a weekly basis,” Crowley said. “They sent over their criminal investigation to us.”

The S.L.A. then reviews the police information, looking for any violations of the A.B.C. law. The findings then are passed on to the S.L.A.’s board members who make the final decision, Crowley said. If the board votes to revoke the license, The Falls will lose their license for two years.

If the owners seek to appeal, Crowley said, they can ask the board for reconsideration or file an Article 78 lawsuit in State Supreme Court.

However, he noted, “If they ask for reconsideration, they’re not going to have the license while going through the [appeal] process.”

The Falls has been the scene of numerous protests since the gruesome killing. A group of activists, outraged that two and a half months since St. Guillen’s murder, the bar has still managed to stay open, gathered there on Monday night when news of the S.L.A.’s actions became known.

The 1-foot-high letters that spelled out the bar’s name over the door were recently removed.

“What do we want it? Closed!” the group yelled, standing in a light rain outside the nearly empty bar. “When do we want it? Now!” they called out.

Jeff Ragsdale, an Upper West Side writer, has organized the ongoing weekly protests outside the bar.

“They’re going to pay for what they did,” Ragsdale said of the Dorrian family, the bar’s owners. The S.L.A. action, he said, “is going to wake up the rest of these deadbeat bars in the city. It’s going to send a message: Operate by the law or you’re finished.

“They broke the law, they obstructed justice,” Ragsdale continued. “Now the state’s taken it up and they’re going to render justice on every level.” He called for immediate passage of the Nightlife Security Initiative, a four-point plan just introduced by City Councilmember Alan Gerson. The legislation was inspired by, and is being fast-tracked in response to St. Guillen’s murder.

The law would require bar owners to check a bouncer’s past and deny employment to anyone with a criminal conviction within the past five years. Littlejohn was a convicted felon on parole when he worked at The Falls. A second bouncer at The Falls was subsequently found to have a violent criminal history.

The proposed legislation would also allow bars to hire off-duty police officers for security. It would also require bars to cooperate fully with any law enforcement investigation. The Dorrian brothers did not reveal vital information about Littlejohn for several days after St. Guillen’s murder, affording her killer the opportunity to dispose of potentially incriminating evidence.

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, has been at many of the recent protests.

“They were using bouncers a year ago to intimidate people and residents who wanted peace and quiet,” Sweeney said of the bar’s muscle. “We feel vindicated, but what a cost.”

Sweeney said the alliance has been fighting the S.L.A. for years over the proliferation of bars in the neighborhood. Each time, their efforts met a wall of excuses.

“Liquor licenses granted. We asked why and the S.L.A. said, ‘It’s going to create jobs and taxes.’”

State Assembly candidate Esther Yang has an eerie connection to the tragedy. Twenty years ago, she started work at Flutie’s on Pier 17 at the South St. Seaport. Yang said she got the job that Jennifer Levin had there after Levin had quit. Levin was subsequently murdered by Robert Chambers after the two met at Dorrian’s Red Hand, an Upper East Side bar owned by the same family that owns The Falls.

“Over 20 years ago, one woman died,” Yang said. “I just feel one woman’s death by the Dorrians family is enough. Two is asking too much.” Yang calls the S.L.A. the “Sleeping Liquor Authority” for its failure to rein in questionable activities at bars. “I’m not against bar owners but I’m against irresponsible bar owners like the Dorrian family,” she said. “The fact that they didn’t even do background checks, to me that’s insane.”

A resident of Tudor City in East Midtown, Yang is running in the Democratic primary in the East Side’s 74th Assembly District, which is currently represented by Sylvia Friedman. Friedman won a special election in February for the seat formerly held by Steve Sanders, who retired from the Legislature at the end of last year.

In related news, St. Guillen’s family recently filed a notice of intent to sue The Falls’ owners for not properly screening Littlejohn’s background before hiring him.

Protesters and reporters outside far outnumbered patrons inside The Falls on Monday night. As the protest was underway, two women walked by the crowd with their protest signs, looking slightly confused. They then entered the bar, joining three men who were watching a basketball game on a big-screen TV.

As the press conference concluded, a man who had been going in and out of the bar approached the entrance and pulled large red curtains across the open, full-length doors facing the street, blocking the press and activists from looking in.