Byram - Growing up in Greece, Dennis Vaghenas saw first-hand the ugly face of governmental abuse of power. Now, he believes, he is seeing it again; only this time in America
in Byram to be exact. Vaghenas, who owns Porky's Restaurant on Route 206, alleges that he is the victim of "harassment and intimidation" by Byram Police Officer Daniel DeWald. According to the business owner, DeWald has systematically targeted patrons coming out of his establishment. In addition, Vaghenas said, the officer has been harassing him, going as far as threatening him during a recent encounter when Vaghenas was issued a summons outside of his establishment by the officer. To air his case, Vaghenas requested a meeting with Byram Township Manager Gregory Poff, and Chief of Police John Gutwerk. In addition, the business owner sent letters to both officials and the mayor recounting his complaint. Despite the fact that in his letters Vaghenas expresses concern for his life and the welfare of his family, to this day, three weeks later, he has not received an official answer from any townp official. "I can't get any answers. Nothing, nothing!" said Vaghenas during a recent interview. "No one has taken a position." Vaghenas is not alone with his grumbling. At a recent meeting with the manager, Vaghenas brought along several other business owners and residents who also had similar complaints against the officer. He has also collected names and signatures from at least nine other people willing to back his claims. "This is not a personal vendetta. The guy is putting these people out of business and the police department is looking the other way," he said. Chief of police Gutwerk verified on Monday Vaghenas' claim that several area business owners had attended the meeting. The chief also acknowledged that on July 27, Vaghenas had filed an official complaint with the department. However, the chief disagreed with Vaghenas' assessment that nothing has been done. According to him, there is currently an inquiry into matter being done by the Internal Affairs Unit of the Byram Police Department. "We are investigating," said Gutwerk. "We have been most cooperative with him." Because of the ongoing investigation, Gutwerk would not comment on whether there are any previous complaints lodged against the officer. DeWald has been on the force for three years. "I can't comment too much because there is a pending internal investigation," he said. The chief also dismissed Vaghenas' complaint that the officer was in violation for driving onto the restaurant parking lot during the incident when Vaghenas said he was threatened by the officer. "If it's a licensed liquor establishment, we are entitled to go there. If we need, we can go inside to check," said the chief. The chief of police also declined to give an estimate on how long the investigation will take, saying there are "a lot of people to speak with." As of this writing, not one of the people who accompanied Vaghenas to the meeting has been approached by a township or police department representative. Byram Township manager Poff also dismissed Vaghenas' complaint that nothings has been done regarding his claim. "At the time of the meeting I made clear to him that there is a process in place in which to file a complaint and that the chief will assist him in filing such a complaint," said Poff. "The New Jersey attorney general has established a way in which complaints (against) police officers are to be handled and that process is to be handled by the police department." Poff said his office drafted a letter to be mailed "today or tomorrow" in which he restates these facts. "He will be contacted once that investigation will be completed," said Poff but warned that "(The investigation) will take time to make sure we are fair to him and to the police officer." In the meantime, Vaghenas continues to wait for an official answer. He believes the actions of this particular officer have had a negative effect on business in the area. The business owner is not discounting the possibility of taking legal action against the municipality.