Dozens of drunk driving cases in Jefferson County could be in jeopardy after a breathalyzer operator at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections was captured on videotape saying a defendant didn’t smell of alcohol, then wrote in a report that he did.
Charges in two DUI cases already have been amended because of the discrepancy, and defense lawyers say they intend to use it to impeach Officer Brett Rehm in all of his roughly 70 pending cases.
“His credibility is shot,” said defense lawyer Paul Gold.
Maj. Endora Davis said an in email that Metro Corrections has launched an internal inquiry based on information received from a reporter.
Rehm, who began working at the jail in 2006, did not respond to a request for comment sent to him on his Facebook account.
Assistant County Attorney Paul Richwalsky Jr., the chief of the DUI division, said in an interview that Rehm’s conduct could be an issue in future cases.
“We would like to sit down with the officer to what, if any, explanation there could be,” Richwalsky said. “I don’t know if there is an explanation.”
Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the county attorney’s office, noted that the prosecution can present other evidence to prove DUI cases beside the testimony of the breath test operator.
A jail video shows that after Louisville Metro Police Officer Kyle Meany arrested Jorge Cejay, 27, Feb. 27 on a suspicion of drunk driving, Meany told Rehm the case would probably be dismissed because of a lack of evidence.
Meany had been unable to administer most of the field sobriety test on Cejay because he didn’t understand English, and Cejay refused to take the Breathalyzer test.
According to the video, Rehm responded, “Yeah, I don’t have much as far as observation either. I didn’t smell any alcohol.”
But when he prepared his official report, Rehm wrote that Cejay “had odor of alcoholic beverages emitting from his breath and a “slight uneven gate.”
When Cejay’s case was called Oct. 8 in Jefferson District Court, his lawyer, Jeffrey McClain, showed the video to Assistant County Attorney Roger Cooper, who amended the drunk driving charge to reckless driving. Cejay paid a $100 fine and court costs.
McClain said that he believes Rehm intentionally misrepresented the defendant’s condition to save Meany’s case.
Cooper wrote on the case jacket that he was dropping the DUI because of the “officer comment” and because Cejay “looked good” in the video. Richwalsky said Cooper didn’t know at the time about the discrepancy between Rehm’s comments on tape and in his written report.
McClain said his client had drunk only a Red Bull and a Sprite before he was pulled over at Eastern Parkway and Shelby Street for allegedly driving erratically.
Last Thursday, an assistant county attorney amended drunk driving charges in another case after Rehm took the stand and defense lawyer Danny Alvarez told the prosecution he intended to cross-examine him about what he had done in the earlier case.
Alvarez says that Rehm knew or should have that he placed a “false statement” in the written report.
Alvarez and Gold, who handles many drunk driving cases, says the county attorney’s office must now disclose Rehm’s conduct in all of his pending cases.
And they said they expect defense counsel to use it to impeach him even in cases in which he administered a breath test that showed the driver’s blood alcohol levels exceeded the legal limits.
“The machines can be tampered with,” Alvarez said. “If you have somebody who is willing to write up a false report, that person also could tamper with the machinery. It calls into question the whole process.”
The controversy marks the second time in less than a year that the credibility of a breath test operator has been called into question.
News outlets reported last November that more than 100 cases involving Daniel Lister were jeopardized after he was accused of contacting women inmates within days of them being released from jail, having sex with one of them, and lying to investigators about it. He resigned the day of his termination hearing.
Gold said virtually all of the cases he had with Lister were dismissed or amended. Richwalsky said some were tried without Lister and Halladay said some of his cases are still in the pipeline.
Rehm, 56, an Army veteran who is originally from North Dakota, has received commendations for helping save an inmate’s life and keeping contraband out of the jail, while he has been been sanctioned for bringing his own cell phone into a secure area of the prison and disregarding an order to release a mentally ill inmate only if his family appeared to pick him up.
One review praised him for showing “a great attitude towards staff” but said he “comes on too strong towards inmates.”
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189 or on Twitter @adwolfson.