Breaking News

‘You know I’m a congressional candidate,’ N.J. gym owner tells cops after DWI arrest, video shows

The New Jersey gym owner who gained national attention in 2020 for defying COVID-19 restrictions informed police that he was running for Congress after he was arrested March 27 on charges of drunken driving in Cinnaminson, video released by police Thursday from the traffic stop shows.

“You know I’m a congressional candidate for this district, right?” Smith says while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser, according to multiple dash and body camera videos of the traffic stop and arrest.

Smith was pulled over early on a Sunday. The dashcam from the police cruiser shows Smith swerved out of his lane on Route 130 north multiple times, including nearly veering into another car before the officer pulled him over.

Smith told the officer he had one drink – a margarita – at a taco restaurant in a nearby town when he was initially speaking with the officer and claimed that the suspension on his lifted pickup sometimes causes the vehicle to be difficult to control, according to the video. Smith later, after several field sobriety tests, described the drink as a double margarita.

Smith, a co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, is running for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd District currently represented by Democrat Andy Kim. Smith did not return a call for comment.

Steve Kush, a spokesman for Smith, said Thursday he’s seen the police videos and believes his client passed the sobriety tests.

“He wasn’t drunk for obvious reasons,” Kush said. Kush said Smith’s comments in the video shouldn’t be taken out of context.

“He was angry,” Kush said. “People sometimes say things out of anger. He was trying to make a point that, ‘hey I’m running for congress. I wouldn’t do something so stupid as to drive drunk.’”

Smith had been out with his wife at a restaurant in Haddonfield and they had taken separate vehicles, Kush said, adding that if he’d been too intoxicated to drive, his wife would have taken him home.

The arrest is not Smith’s first. He has a prior conviction for drunken driving, as well as vehicular manslaughter, for a 2007 crash in Galloway that killed a 19-year-old township resident, Kevin Ade.

Smith was a 20-year-old Stockton University student at the time. He addressed the fatal crash in 2020 when he started making headlines and appearing on national television after defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions on gyms.

When he was arrested on March 27, Smith refused to take a Breathalyzer test at Cinnaminson police headquarters. Kush said that Smith refused the test at the police station due to his distrust in government and the way he had been treated during the COVID shutdown.

Smith also made the same contention as he was being taken into custody that night following eye tracking and balance tests administered by the officer. At least two other officers were visible on the video during the tests.

On the videos, Smith is shown in the parking lot for a Route 130 diner walking a solid line and raising one foot in the air while counting. After he’s handcuffed, Smith insisted that he passed the tests, despite the windy conditions.

“Standing out here on a windy highway, I did not pass that test that you just gave me? You’re submitting me to balance tests, which I did,” Smith says on the video.

“You did not pass from my observation,” the officer tells him.

“You’re taking me into custody and I didn’t fail anything,” Smith tells the officers. “I’m in handcuffs because of an accusation.”

Once in the back of a police cruiser, the arresting officer tells Smith that his police dashcam has captured “how poor your driving was, how poor your test was,” according to the officer’s dashboard and body cameras, which kept recording during the trip to police headquarters.

At one point, Smith appears to question the officer’s motivation for the stop.

“You didn’t get paid to do this?” Smith asks the officer on the ride to the police station.

“I didn’t get paid to do what?” the officer responds. “I’m doing my job. I don’t know what you mean. Get paid to do what?”

Smith then asks the officer what town he was in and the officer replies that he’s in Cinnaminson Township. After about 90 seconds of silence, the officer and Smith start talking again about arranging a ride home after he’s processed. That’s when Smith mentions his congressional race.

“You know that I’m a congressional candidate in this district, right, and that there’s a (inaudible) on me,” Smith said. The inaudible portion was overlapped by a radio transmission and the officer did not understand what he said.

“There’s a what?” the officer said.

Part of the conversation is inaudible due to police radio chatter.

“I’m doing my job. I don’t know what you mean – get paid to do what?” the officer asks.

“Just do your job. I don’t want to comment on it. I’m going to say something that I really…,” Smith says. “I got respect for you guys. I haven’t done anything wrong and you’re telling me I’m under arrest.”

Smith is scheduled to appear on the charge in Cinnaminson Municipal Court on April 14.

Smith’s gym racked up more than $120,000 in fines for violating New Jersey’s COVID-19 lockdown orders and Bellmawr officials sought to revoke the business license. His gym has since reopened.

Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


https://www.nj.com/camden/2022/04/you-know-im-a-congressional-candidate-nj-gym-owner-tells-cops-after-dwi-arrest-video-shows.html