Murder Victim’s Mother Sues Chris Christie Over NJ Bail Reform

CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) — In a federal lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie, a grieving mother says New Jersey’s bail reform law freed a violent criminal from jail without bond to shoot her son 22 times.

June Rodgers, the mother of Christian Phillip Nolan Rodgers, 26, also sued New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino on Monday, saying the state’s Criminal Justice Reform Act “didn’t work, and throngs of violent criminals were released into the streets of New Jersey’s neighborhoods.”

The lawsuit is financially backed by Duane Chapman, also known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” a reality TV star who lobbies against bail reforms such as New Jersey’s.

“I wanted to help support the Rodgers family and to send a message to Gov. Chris Christie that law enforcement professionals like myself from across the country think he should be ashamed of himself for ignoring our advice and passing the dangerous, fake reform that I believe led to the tragic murder of Christian Rodgers,” Chapman said in a statement. “Christie should be ashamed of himself.”

Rodgers says in her complaint that her son was “but one victim” of Christie’s “so-called ‘progress.’”

The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2014 took effect in January this year. It requires a court to use a scoring system known as a Public Safety Assessment, which was developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The system requires a judge to consider and exhaust a laundry list of conditions of release before considering bail.

The Arnold Foundation also is a defendant, as is Anne Milgram, who was vice president of criminal justice policy with the foundation, helped create the Public Safety Assessment, and a former attorney general of New Jersey.

“Christie claims the CJRA is designed to keep people out of jail because they are poor and cannot afford bail, but in reality, Christie’s goal was to save money on the costs of incarceration in the state,” the complaint states. “While the costs of incarceration are high, and the demand for reform is nearly universal, to knowingly employ a system with dangerous risks that would impact — and did impact — the lives of 8.9 million people who live in the state of New Jersey was unconscionable.”

According to the state’s preliminary statistics, in the first six months of 2017, New Jersey courts granted 3,307 pretrial detention motions from prosecutors — a procedural mechanism that allows detention without consideration of bail, and that did not exist before the new law.  According to the same statistics, approximately 18,000 people were released subject to non-monetary conditions in the first six months of 2017.

“While reducing jail populations is a noble goal, this case underscores that sometimes pretrial detention keeps us all safe,” the complaint states. “Had Jules Black been detained as a felon carrying a gun, Christian Rodgers would be alive today.”

Black was arrested by New Jersey State Police in April 5 for carrying a 9mm pistol. He was a felon and prohibited from carrying a gun. He shot and killed Rodgers on April 9, as Rodgers walked down a street.

According to the complaint, after he was arrested on April, “Black was assigned a score using the Arnold Foundation’s PSA [Public Safety Assessment] predicting the likelihood that he will commit a new crime if released pending trial.” Yet he was released and killed Rodgers four days later.

About six weeks after Rodgers’ death, Attorney General Porrino “apparently recognized that the PSA was so obviously flawed — producing fatal results. Defendant Porrino released new guidelines for when prosecutors should seek to detain defendants before trial.”

But it was too late for Rodgers’s son. She claims that Christie and Porrino knew the African-American community would be disproportionately affected by the bail reforms. Rodgers was African American, as is Jules Black.

“Due to the well-known fact that there is a 12-1 ratio of African American to white pretrial criminal defendants that get locked up in New Jersey in the first place, and that Christie and Porrino knew that racial demographics in New Jersey reflect that a disproportionately high

number of African American defendants would return to predominantly African American neighborhoods when released, Christie knew that the outrageous risk would be borne by predominantly African American neighborhoods, in particular,” the complaint states.

Chapman held a news conference with Rodgers Monday to announce the filing of the lawsuit.

Rodgers seeks a permanent injunction against use of the Public Safety Assessment and the bail reform, and compensatory damages for her son’s pain suffering.

She is represented by Sarah Lachman with Nexus Caridades Attorneys in New York.

Christie’s and Porrino’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent after business hours Monday.

A bail bond association sued the New Mexico Supreme Court last week on similar grounds, claiming that New Mexico’s bail reform, modeled on New Jersey’s, was driving bail bond companies out of business.

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