By Emmy Liederman
On the night of the fatal Dec. 2 car accident that left the campus community in mourning, Landmark Americana security footage captured the driver staggering out of the bar in a drunken state while attempting to light a cigarette. He had spent nearly three hours at the bar that night watching the game, downing mixed drinks and refusing to hand over his car keys. When the driver decided to get behind the wheel, his blood-alcohol level was at least three times the legal limit.
In response to this tragedy and the death of Michael Sot, the late student’s family sued Landmark last month, according to New Jersey 101.5.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Acting Director James B. Graziano has ordered that the establishment abide by a variety of special conditions and regulations.
According to a press release issued by the office of Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Jan. 11, the bar will stop serving the popular Bacardi mixed drink known as the “fishbowl,” which the driver, David Lamar V, was drinking on the night of the accident, among other mixed drinks and beer buckets.
Other changes include closing on or before midnight on Thursday through Saturday and on or before 10 p.m. the rest of the week. Under Graziano’s Consent Order, Landmark will stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 9:15 p.m. the rest of the week, according to the press release.
The bar will also only serve one alcoholic beverage per patron at a time, turn over security footage to law enforcement in a more timely manner and attend monthly meetings with Campus Police to discuss operational concerns of law enforcement at any time. These conditions took effect in January and will remain in place until Graziano decides to take any further action, according to the press release.
“When alcohol and driving are mixed, the consequences can be deadly, so it is vitally important that establishments that serve alcohol do so responsibly,” Grewal said. “The restrictions placed on the Landmark Americana will help prevent excessive drinking and other unsafe behaviors that can lead to tragedy.”
Shortly after the accident in December, Landmark sent out an email to staff members with new policies, which included counting drinks, encouraging food orders and setting up water stations in an effort to control patron intoxication.
“We can’t control what people do prior to arriving, but engaging with guests is a great way of identifying (how much they’ve had to drink),” said a current Landmark employee who was quoted on the condition of anonymity. “We are also trying to work with Lyft to get them to have more cars in the area.”
The same employee noticed that business suffered after the tragedy, but believes it will pick up again in the spring semester.
“It will get busier again,” the employee said. “I think people will realize that it wasn’t Landmark’s fault, but the fault of a man who decided to get in a driver’s seat drunk.”
Although the fatal accident has been the most recent controversy, the establishment has been under the scrutiny of the campus community for a number of prior issues. Students at the College have reportedly accused Landmark of mishandling a number of racially-charged incidents and reported ableist comments.
On Dec. 6, manager Mike Edge said he could not comment on any of the reported disputes.
On the night of Nov. 29 Aaron, a student at the College who requested that only his first name be published, headed to Landmark with some friends to celebrate his induction into an honor society when he became involved in a racial incident.
Aaron said that while he was in the bathroom stall, he was congratulated for his recent campus activism. At that moment, a third party in the bathroom referred to him as a n*****.
Aaron said he was later escorted out forcefully by Landmark employees after he tried to engage with the third party member. The student felt that Landmark staff did not handle the situation appropriately.
“It’s such a shame that there is this constant trend of people in minority groups on campus being disregarded and having their success inhibited by a minority of members of a predominantly white community,” Aaron said.
Although Aaron still feels his anger was justified, he recognized that he could have reacted in a calmer manner. He called Landmark the next morning and apologized for his behavior in order to “try to be the bigger person” and noted that if the racial slur did not immediately follow other racially-charged incidents on campus, he may have reacted differently.
“I believe that if the campus climate wasn’t the way it is right now and I hadn’t just spoken at the forum held in response to racial hate incidents against brothers of my organization, I would have been a little less emotional in the bathroom,” he said. “The reason I apologized to Landmark is because I don’t need my reputation tarnished in any way. I am here to serve as a role model for underrepresented members of the community and show them that while the climate on campus is toxic, the future need not be.”
Kyle Veale, director of operations at Landmark said that members of the establishment did everything they could to properly address the incident.
“We questioned everyone that was in the bathroom at that time, all of whom denied saying that to him,” he said. “Their names were provided to Campus Police the same day of the occurrence. We also have been in contact with the student after the event occurred. We’re not familiar with any events of excessive force.”
Marcus Allen, a junior journalism and professional writing and African American studies double major who had previously been involved with other racial incidents on campus, was also at Landmark that night. According to Allen, he walked outside the bar after getting a call that the anonymous student was in trouble.
“I ran outside of the building and security was pushing him off the stairs and tackling him to the ground,” he said. “When I asked what was going on, security did not respond to me.”
According to Allen, he tried to walk back into the bar to retrieve his jacket when security attempted to lock him out. When he was finally let in, Allen was met with more resistance.
“As we were leaving and paid, security was behind me and said, ‘You have to get the fuck out of here’ and grabbed me,” he said. “I said ‘let me go’ and then started screaming at other security. When I said ‘what am I doing wrong’ he tried to slam me into a wall. I’m crying at this point because things like this happen too often in my community.”
The next morning, Allen went to Campus Police where despite his requests, he was not granted the opportunity to file a report regarding the incident. Allen reflected on how the combination of recent racial tensions at the College has negatively affected him.
“A lot of this has taken a toll on my academics and mental, emotional and physical health,” he said. “We need to bring attention to these incidents (by) saying, ‘I will not support the establishment that allowed these things to happen.’”
This incident isn’t the only discriminatory complaint that has been issued against Landmark and its staff. Amy Schuler, the assistant director of the Career and Community Studies Program, met with Landmark employees in December to discuss an instance of ableism that was brought to her attention by a student CCS mentor. The student showed Schuler a social media video that is “very derogatory towards people with cognitive disabilities.”
According to Schuler, the video featured two young men dressed in their Landmark shirts during one of their shifts. One of the employees is captured saying, “‘It was your first night as a bouncer and you had to break up a retard fight’” to the other employee.
“He then started imitating the stereotypical demeanor of someone who has a cognitive disability,” she said. “I went for a meeting with Landmark and they were apologetic and acknowledged that this is not the way people nor the customer base should be treated. I thought their response was adequate. I suggested sensitivity training on the effects of labeling people and ableism speech.”
Schuler noted that as a Campus Town business, Landmark should be held accountable for abiding by the College’s values.
“Even though Landmark isn’t officially part of the College, it needs to make sure that its employees and corporation is in line with TCNJ’s missions,” she said. “It is about the overall dignity and respect for people with disabilities.”
Veale wrote that the employees in the video were reprimanded and feels that the situation was handled appropriately.
“Both employees were disciplined for it as soon as we became aware and we do not anticipate a reoccurrence,” he said. “We felt that they were both truly remorseful for their actions. This disappointing event has brought to light our need for additional sensitivity training that we will be putting in place.”
After hearing of these incidents, a group of students decided to create a flyer that reads “Boycott Landmark Americana” with a list of reasons, which include the bar’s failure to monitor Lamar’s drinking, the various racial incidents and the use of ableist language.
Mckenna Samson, a sophomore English and African American studies double major, was involved in the making and distribution of the flyer.
“I feel like we just took two steps forward with the forum and now we’re taking five steps backwards,” she said. “I want to campus community to see the way Landmark treats their patrons of color. They need to be exposed for their poor business practices.”
When asked to comment on the flyer, Veale said that he was unaware that it even existed and that it was “really disappointing the hear about.”
As the spring semester begins, only time will tell whether students will continue to support the establishment or not. Regardless, students hope to see real change in their campus community, especially after the forum and the recent election of acting Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Ivonne Cruz.
Most students hope that their efforts to change the campus climate will not be in vain.
“When I leave here, I hope to leave a positive legacy,” Aaron said. “I am here to serve as a role model for underrepresented members of the community and show them that while the climate on campus is toxic, the future need not be.”