LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Reality star joins legal battle to challenge NJ’s bail reform

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

“This should not have happened to him,” said June Rogers, “All he was doing was walking home from a convenient store.”

The pain still seemed fresh for Rogers nearly four months after her 31-year-old son, Christian Rodgers, an aspiring rapper, was shot 22 times and killed in South Jersey. The accused killer: Jules Black.

“Everyone in our neighborhood knew that this guy was a danger to our community,” said June.

Black has a long rap sheet of convictions and court appearances. He had been arrested and charged with having a gun a week before Rodgers’ murder. But, under New Jersey’s 7-month-old bail reform, Black was not assessed as a risk to public safety and prosecutors did not ask a judge to keep him in jail.

The Rodgers family takes issue with those, including the Governor and state Attorney General, who call bail reform a success.

“You were successful at allowing my son to run for his life after he had been shot,” accused June.

“You destroyed us,” added Vincent Osby, father of Christian Rodgers, “This bail reform that you have in place doesn’t work.”

New Jersey uses an algorithm created by the Arnold Foundation to assess a defendant’s risk to public safety if released before trial; removing the ability to pay money for bail to determine release and detention. The Rodgers family is suing the Arnold Foundation and the state in federal court to block and to end bail reform.

“The people who created the risk assessment and came to New Jersey and said this is going to work that when you run people through it that will tell you whether or not they’re dangerous. That product failed.” Mike Donovan, President and CEO of Nexus Services.

The attorney for the family, Mario Williams, added, “You have a program in place that’s supposed to be a risk assessment program and then is allowing convicted felons, known criminals, people who have had gun charges, back out onto the streets assessed at no risk to the community.”

The Rodgers’ support includes Duane “Dog” Chapman and his wife, Beth Chapman. She’s president of the Professional Bail Agents of the U.S., and in New Jersey they’ve lost millions of dollars to bail reform.

“Relieving people of their accountability for the crimes that they commit causes only more dangerous situations to our community,” said Beth Chapman.

“This ‘hug a thug’ campaign has got to stop,” added Duane Chapman, “It’s killing people as you see. The Arnold Foundation has a questionnaire.

The Arnold Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

The state of New Jersey says it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. But, about a month after Rodgers’ murder, the state Attorney General’s office, heeding the pleas of mayors from Jersey City, Newark and elsewhere, and state lawmakers, directed prosecutors to more frequently ask courts and judges to detain those charged with gun crimes.

The Drug Policy Alliance says it sympathizes with the Rodgers family’s loss.

But State Director Roseanne Scotti added, “The only person responsible for that is the monster who shot her son. No system is going to be 100 percent safe. But you have to compare bail reform not to perfection, but to the old, broken, unsafe system where someone, if they had enough money, no matter how horrific their crime was, they could be released.

The Chapmans sought to challenge Scotti, but she walked away to avoid a confrontation about an issue that drives up emotions and now has led to a legal challenge.