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Stop the gatherings or face discipline, Derby officials tell Punishers Motorcycle Club

DERBY — Keep up the social gatherings and it could be the Punishers Motorcycle Club and their garage’s owner that face discipline.

The Planning and Zoning Commission this week gave a stern warning during its virtual meeting to Dominic Thomas, the lawyer for the Burtville Avenue garage owner and the motorcycle club. The club is made up of law enforcement officers.

The warning was expected to be followed up with a cease and desist letter sent this week ordering the owner and his tenant to stop using the garage as a social club. As of early Friday afternoon, no such letter has been received, Thomas said.

The commission also is expected to send a second request demanding the owner and its tenant specify exactly what the garage is being used for.

I’m tired of this back and forth every month,” said Ted Estwan, the commission’s chairman. “I keep hearing they’re having social events there.”

The chairman said he visited the site and saw “a bar in the place, not a lift for cars or a motorcycle repair tool kit. There is a bar.”

Thomas insisted there are no events taking place there and that photographs provided to the city showing otherwise are at least three years old. One of those photos included the message ‘Welcome to the Grand Opening of our Social Club,’ Estwan said.

Thomas said if “Derby Auto Body or the wedding dress people (two nearby neighbors of the club) decide to have a party, I’m sure you’re not going to run down and issue a cease and desist order. There is no ongoing violation.”

Police Chief Gerald Narowski disputed Thomas’s statements. Narowski told the Commission he “personally witnessed” social gatherings there.

“There is no doubt in my mind … This club is active and moving forward,” Narowski said, adding he can provide sworn statements and video showing violations.

“If there is evidence of any violation, I’ll take it and address it at that point,” Thomas fired back.

“Explain to me why this so-called non-club has started a GoFundMe page,” Estwan said.

The GoFundMe page indicates it was started by Jamie Rivera, recently re-elected the Punishers’ president. So far, the page raised $3,760 of its $10,000 goal from 54 donors.

The national organization’s “About” page says the group raises money for charitable causes, especially those benefiting police officers, firefighters and their children.

The local GoFundMe page listing also contains the following explanation: “We the PUNISHERS are a group of law enforcement officers and first responders that raise monies for charitable organizations. Some people in derby are trying to shut us down for no reason!!!! This anti cop agenda needs to stop. We have retained the services of an attny to assist us. All monies raised above our attny costs will be donated to a local charity.”

In addition to the cease and desist order, the commission also directed a letter be sent to the owner and the club requesting a statement of use for the building.

“I want them to put it in writing to us what they are currently doing or what they think should be having at that place,” Estwan told Barbara Schellenberg, the commission’s lawyer and Ryan McEvoy, the city engineer. “Because if it’s not allowed, we’ll tell them that and if they deviate at all from that, then we can come back with another cease and desist or further action.”

He also told Thomas if the Punishers were advised by the city they can open a club, he wants to see that documentation.

Thomas has said the garage is part of several buildings located in an old industrial area that was reclassified as an R-5 zone in 2000.

He told the Commission that at some point in the future, he would like them to consider “reasonable changes to allow better uses for these older industrial properties”