Local attorney Anthony Rupp believes where there is smoke, there could be fire.
The attorney said he was stunned by the number of people that commented on a story posted on WIVB’s Facebook by News 4 Investigates involving an alleged unlawful search and seizure in the Village of Gowanda.
As a result, he sent a letter to every business and residence in the village with a request that people call his office if they have any complaints about the village or its police department.
The concern stems from an incident that happened in the village on July 20, 2018.
That’s when David Yezek’s security cameras captured Gowanda officers entering his home, entering other rooms and seizing a bag of marijuana before a search warrant had been secured. The police officers said Yezek invited them in, but Yezek said that is false.
In November, he filed a civil complaint in federal court.
Rupp said hundreds of people commented on WIVB’s Facebook post of the story, including some who posted their own complaints about the village and its police department.
In addition, he said his office received numerous phone calls from people purporting to live in the village with complaints against the Gowanda Police Department.
“We thought in the interest of investigating the matters more fully, and potentially having people who could tell us information further about the Yezek case and some others that we have in our office against the Village of Gowanda, that it would just be helpful to reach out to all of the residents,” Rupp said.
David Smith, the village’s mayor, and Dennis Feldmann, the office-in-charge of the police department, both refused to meet with News 4 Investigates to discuss the letter.
Deborah Chadsey, the attorney for the village, has instructed board members not to do interviews with News 4 by incorrectly stating that the letter is “currently the subject of litigation.”
Gowanda is a quiet village about 30 miles south of Buffalo, bisected by both Erie and Cattaraugus counties. Less than 3,000 people call the village home.
Not much news happens here, and when it does it is kind of a big deal.
For example, the village received $6.7 million to address flooding and called it a “history-making event.”
Rupp already has another case he plans to litigate in addition to Yezek’s case, and he is likely going to file a third lawsuit soon, he said.
Since he mailed the letter just over a week ago, about a dozen people have called his office in response.
“We’ve heard a lot of things, and we need to be able to verify the truth and accuracy of them and see where that takes us,” Rupp said.
Gowanda residents who spoke to News 4 had mixed reactions about the letter.
Amy Carter, who said she is close friends with the family of officer-in-charge Feldmann, said the criticism aimed at the police department is unwarranted.
“I think that is bogus and I think the Gowanda Police Department does a good job,” Carter said about the letter.
Pauline Girome said she thought the letter was concerning and feared it might taint the village’s image.
“I’ve never seen a letter like that before,” she said.
“If the police did it, well, they did it wrong.”
Christina Lee said she got the letter and watched the News 4 Investigates piece on Yezek’s lawsuit .
“I think that it is pretty wrong what the police did to that guy,” she said regarding the Yezek case.
“I think it’s good that people are coming forward with these kinds of problems. It lets people know that these things are going on and it’s OK for people to come forward with them because there are people who will have your back for it.”