NJ cop’s .36% DWI arrest kept quiet for a year
The drunk-driving arrest of a veteran South Jersey police officer whose blood alcohol level tested at over four times the legal limit is coming to light over a year later — because material members of the public obtained through public records requests was posted online.
Lower Township police Lt. John Chew, 48, was stopped in the Erma section of Lower Township in his Chevrolet pickup truck on April 27, 2018 after several 911 calls were received about an erratic driver operating at a high rate of speed, according to a case file posted online by an individual or group using the names "Real World Police" and "Real World Media." Lower Township police have acknowledged the documents and a body camera video when asked by New Jersey 101.5 about them.
After failing a roadside sobriety test, Chew, who had been off-duty at the time of the stop, was charged with DWI.
The arrest did not appear in a police blotter post on the Lower Township Police Facebook page for the time period of the arrest posted on May 15, 2018, or in reports posted in subsequent weeks. There did not appear to have been any coverage of it by the state's news outlets at the time.
"I requested it not be published at that time because an Internal Affairs complaint against Lt. Chew had been initiated and we are required by the Attorney General Guidelines to maintain confidentiality," Executive Officer Capt. Martin Biersbach told New Jersey 101.5 in an email Monday.
According to the arrest report, Chew blew a .36 during his sobriety test.
The 23-year-veteran of the force — who had just been promoted a few months earlier — was stopped by two officers on Honeysuckle Road just off Route 9. In video of the stop posted by Real World Police, the officers are seen in the position of investigating and eventually arresting a superior officer. They say they must do everything during the stop "by the book" because the stop will likely be closely scrutinized. One of the arresting officers during the video comments several times that Chew had been had been his first sergeant.
Police reports identify the officers at the scene as Patrolman Michael Nuscis and then-Cpl. John Armbruster.
The officers are seen in the video administering a roadside sobriety test, but Chew appears to have difficulty putting one foot in the front of the other, and holds onto his truck balance. Chew tells the officers he does not want to complete the test and he is placed under arrest.
The video shows man who identifies himself as a neighbor and friend named "Mike" offering to drive the pickup to Chew's nearby home — Chew tells the officers during the video he's only a half-mile from home — but the officers decline, saying Chew's superior officer told them the truck had to be towed.
Chew refuses to be escorted to the patrol cars that had stopped him. The video shows him walking over on his own and sitting down in the front passenger seat. The officers tell him he has to sit in the back and needs to be cuffed.
The video shows Chew crossing his arms and tucking his hands into his armpit, refusing to be cuffed. Chew is never seen wearing cuffs in the video.
Later, at the police headquarters, Chews gave a middle finger repeatedly to a fellow lieutenant when asked if he understood his Miranda rights, according to a supplementary arrest report.
"Upon asking the last question if he wished to answer questions he again extended his middle finger in my direction. I advised I would consider that a NO," Lt. William C. Priole.
Chew initially refused to sit for a booking photo but eventually agreed, according to the report. He announced he was retiring the next day, the report says. A supplemental investigative report included in the case file says he was informed he'd be suspended administratively.
An expert used by State Police in the past, and hired by Chew's legal team, reviewed his arrest and wrote a 12-page report alleging several problems with the investigation and arrest, including questioning the use of the smell of alcohol to and the observation of Chew's bloodshot eyes to determine he was intoxicated.
A summary of the case by Real World Police in its YouTube video description says Chew pleaded guilty on Sept 13, 2018 to driving under the influence and was fined nearly $700, was required to use an ignition interlock for six months following a seven-month license suspension, and was required to spend 12 hours a week in a intoxicated driver resource center. Biersbach told New Jersey 101.5 that was indeed his understanding of the penalties.
Biersbach also told New Jersey 101.5 Chew is no longer with the department or receiving any pay.
“We made every effort to assist Lt. Chew with his issues but were unsuccessful. We take our officers' behaviors serious on and off duty. My understanding is that a retirement has been filed for but I have no additional information beyond that. We wish him well in the future," he said in an email to New Jersey 101.5.
Chew is married with two children was a member of the county SWAT team, according to a Cape May County Herald report about his promotions.
According to correspondence published by OPRAmachine, a service that assists with requests for documents available under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, materials in the case file were requested by Robert McKnight on May 30. However, he told Biersbach in follow-up correspondence that it wouldn't be necessary to send the video, because of the difficulties in delivering large video files.
Real World Media followed up with a request for the video and made arrangements for it to be delivered electronically. Biersbach told Real World Media there was no bodycam footage available from Nuscis because of a technical issue, but that the incident should have been completely recorded by Armbruster's footage, which was provided.
During Biersbach's correspondence with McKnight, the captain told him initially he was awaiting advice from counsel on releasing the documents, including DWI reports, tow reports, alcohol reports, investigation and supplementary reports, because the matter was subject to an ongoing investigation. When McKnight responds that the ongoing investigation has no bearing on the information he's seeking, Biersbach replies to make arrangements to send the files. New Jersey law generally requires at least certain information be made publicly available once an arrest has been made and charges filed.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ