Two Vanderbilt students Friday were arrested and charged with felony possession with intent to distribute marijuana, cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy) — the result of a two-month-long joint narcotics investigation between Vanderbilt University Police Department and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.
The students, sophomores Simon Chung and Josh Nzewi, appeared in court on Wednesday morning for a preliminary hearing to establish whether there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury.
Attorneys on both sides questioned VUPD Captain Rick Burr and MNPD Officer Gbewa Mustapha, seeking to establish the facts of the investigation and arrest. Neither student spoke during the hearing.
Nearly a dozen of Nzewi’s Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers were present at the hearing to show their support, and they looked on solemnly as Nzewi and Chung were led into the courtroom in orange prison jumpsuits and handcuffs.
The investigation began in November, according to testimony from Mustapha, and involved Mustapha and other MNPD officers using drug-sniffing dogs to screen certain packages in the Vanderbilt Post Office.
An anonymous tip led VUPD to suspect Chung, according to testimony from Burr. VUPD interviewed Chung and his roommate on Jan. 17. The next day Chung was observed on multiple security cameras placing a backpack and box into a vehicle.
The vehicle was identified as belonging to Vanderbilt student James Whitley. When questioned by VUPD, Whitley allowed his car to be searched, and officers found cocaine, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy) powder and unidentified pills in the backpack and box, which had a shipping label with Chung’s name on it.
According to the affidavit, Burr contacted MNPD, at which point they took charge of the operation. They had Whitley place a controlled call to Chung, who arranged for the two of them to meet at the Arby’s on West End.
Chung told Whitley to go into the bathroom, where he searched him for a wire. However, he failed to find the wire that detectives had placed on him, according to Mustapha.
After questioning Whitley as to what he had told police, Chung told Whitley to hold on to the drugs and left the restaurant to go have lunch with Nzewi. According to the affidavit: “A short time later Chung contacted Whitley with further instructions about meeting. Chung told Whitley to leave the ‘stuff’ at Harris Teeter, and he would come and pick it up.”
Chung and Nzewi were arrested as they left the restaurant on 19th Ave. S. Chung refused to speak without an attorney present, but under Miranda Nzewi said that he knew they were going to pick up drugs.
Nzewi consented to a search of his room in Carmichael Towers, which turned up $5,505 in cash hidden in a shoe under his bed. Officers got a warrant to search Chung’s room, Lupton Hall 1414, where they recovered $5,620.
Furthermore, officers found texts on Nzewi’s phone between him and Chung referring to their drug-related activities. One text that Mustapha referenced in his testimony involved Nzewi telling Chung to get a pledge’s vehicle so they could transport drugs.
Chung’s attorney, Robert Vaughn, attempted to cast doubt upon the ownership of the bag containing the drugs in cross-examination, while Nzewi’s attorney, Adam Dread, attempted to call into question the direct links between Nzewi and the alleged narcotic activities.
This proved fruitless, however, as Judge Gale Robinson ruled there was probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. Robinson did, however, side in favor of the defendants in agreeing to lower their bond from $85,000 each to $50,000 in total.
Nzewi’s parents, who were present at the hearing, indicated that they would post his bond, while documents were presented that indicated that Chung’s parents and relatives in California would post his bond. It is not known at this time whether or not their bond has been posted.
Vanderbilt administration has reacted swiftly to the arrests, placing Chung and Nzewi on interim suspension. Dean of Students Mark Bandas also stated in an email to the student body that the Office of the Dean of Students is conducting an investigation into the matter.
Director of Greek Life Kristin Shorter called an emergency meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday with IFC Presidents and New Member Educators.
Whitley has been issued a citation and referred to Student Conduct, according to Burr’s testimony.