The wail of police sirens filled the night a week ago Friday in Union City when almost every police car in town was dispatched to quell what Union City Police are calling a “riot.”
Police were called on the evening of Nov. 28 to respond to the corner of Ninth Street and Bergenline Avenue after calls from residents flooded the police dispatcher saying that there were hundreds of kids in the middle of the street causing a disturbance.
The problem occurred near a business called “La Guacara Restaurante” located at 915 Bergenline Ave., according to city officials. The restaurant, which lost its liquor license over a year ago (it is currently in litigation) still operates as a restaurant/ party location, with dancing and social events included.
According to Union City police officials, the business holds “teen nights” every Friday and Saturday night which typically draw 300 to 400 juveniles. And for the past few weeks, say the officials, these teen nights have resulted in a multitude of complaints from residents who live in the area. The restaurant is located in a mixed-use area, but residences outnumber businesses by a large margin.
According to Police Captain Joe Blaettler, the first sergeant on the scene, Sgt. Emilio Gonzalez, was in a dangerous situation. “As soon as the sergeant left his patrol car,” Blaettler said, “Bottles were being thrown at him.”
Blaettler also said that aside from the multitudes of juveniles congregating on the street, an unidentified youth began punching out windows in the establishment, resulting in the youth sustaining a severed artery, which caused a massive amount of bleeding.
“We had a girl on the scene that passed out from the [sight of] the blood,” he said. “It was a very chaotic and dangerous situation.”
According to police reports, police had to form a “skirmish line” and get everyone out of the area.
Generally, if this kind of incident occurs at an establishment in Union City, the owners invariably find themselves in front of the Union City Commissioners, answering the charges. Sometimes, the owners find their liquor licenses suspended. It is common knowledge that Union City Mayor Brian Stack has a limited amount of patience for establishments in Union City that violate what he considers to be an acceptable amount of decorum.
Stack raised the hackles of local tavern owners last year when the Union City Commissioners passed an ordinance mandating that local bars close at 2 a.m. The establishments had been permitted in years past to close at 3 a. m. Stack saw this as the first step in his “Quality of Life” campaign in Union City, a movement that has garnered praise from city residents, and disdain from merchants.
However, the difference in the case of La Guacara is that the establishment does not currently possess a liquor license, so they are not held to the same rules and regulations as other liquor-serving businesses would be.
This appears to be flummoxing the city.
In a recent telephone interview, Union City Construction Code Official Marty Martinetti stated, “I’ve never actually been to the location, but it is obvious that the place does not have the best interest of the community at heart. What happened the other night proves it.” Martinetti also stated that he had yet to see the police reports from the most recent incident, but was eager to visit the establishment and make sure that they were conforming to all city building codes. Martinetti stated that he would be looking at the reports and beginning an investigation within the next week.
Bur according to Pedro Vasquez, Jr., the son of club owner of La Guacara, Pedro Vasquez, Sr., the city is blowing the incident out of proportion.
Said Vasquez in a telephone interview, “It wasn’t really a big deal. It was a stupid fight. Some kids got into a fight outside the restaurant.”
Added Vasquez, “The story was exaggerated by the police. They’re going to make it look worse than it was. There was no brawl. [The injury to the youth] was a self-inflicted wound from some kid who broke a window.”
But Stack was plain in his assessment of La Guacara. Said Stack in a telephone interview, “When you look at all the money that he’s [owner Pedro Vasquez, Sr.] invested in the establishment, it’s a shame that he runs it like he does. The only thing we’ve ever wanted these places to be are good neighbors. I don’t have anything against businesses that sell liquor, but they have to operate in a responsible manner.”