|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that a Salem City man was convicted at trial of first-degree charges of attempted murder and kidnapping in connection with an incident last year in which he held his girlfriend and her three children hostage and fired on responding law enforcement officers, wounding a county investigator and a police dog.
Lavar Rodgers, 26, of Salem City, was found guilty today by a Salem County jury of four counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count for his girlfriend and one for each of her children. In addition, he was found guilty of four counts of first-degree attempted murder, one for each of the law enforcement officers he fired upon. Rodgers was also found guilty of four counts of criminal restraint; multiple counts of aggravated assault related to the officers and hostages; second-degree weapons offenses, including a charge of possessing a gun as a convicted felon, in connection with the .38-caliber handgun he fired at the officers; and purposefully injuring a police dog. The verdict followed a two-week trial before Superior Court Judge Timothy Farrell. Judge Farrell scheduled sentencing for Rodgers for Oct. 2.
Under state law, first-degree kidnapping carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in state prison. First-degree attempted murder carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison. In each case, the charge includes a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. The sentences on those counts can be imposed consecutively, and Rodgers faces a mandatory consecutive sentence of 10 years, five without possibility of parole, on the charge of possessing a gun as a convicted felon.
Deputy Attorney General James Ruberton tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice. The investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team was led by Detective Glenn Garrels of the State Police Major Crime Unit and Detective Janessa Jones of the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Eric Ludwick of the Division of Criminal Justice assisted DAG Ruberton at trial, along with Assistant Valerie Crowe, Media Specialist Erika Neary, and Coordinator Joseph Sine.
“This verdict is a victory for law enforcement and public safety, because it affirms that those who use deadly force against police officers will face stern justice,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “The officers in this case put their lives on the line to protect the hostages, and one officer and a police dog were wounded during their courageous efforts. This guilty verdict is a testament to their courage and ensures that a dangerous man will be behind bars for a very long time.”
“There is much to be proud of in this verdict,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. “It causes us to recall again the brave response of the officers and police dog in this tense hostage situation. I also want to commend the trial team and detectives whose skill and hard work ensured the conviction of this defendant.”
On Jan. 26, 2011, Rodgers took his girlfriend and her three children, all under age 4 at the time, against their will and held them at gunpoint inside the row home they shared in the 300 block of East Broadway in Salem City. Officers from the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office, Salem County Sheriff’s Office and Salem City Police Department initially responded to the home about 3 p.m. in blizzard-like conditions. Fearing for the safety of the woman and her children, a decision was made to have officers enter the home.
Four officers entered the home: Salem City Police Lt. Robert Eller, Senior Investigator Stephen Dick of the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office, and Officers William Robinson and Walter Christy of the Salem City Police Department. Robinson was accompanied by his K-9 unit dog, Jordan, a German shepherd. As soon as the officers entered, Rodgers fired three shots, wounding Dick in the shoulder and wounding the dog in the chest. Dick and Robinson both returned fire, but Rodgers was not hit. Rodgers remained in the house with his hostages.
Police attempted to negotiate with Rodgers, and the girlfriend and children emerged from the house over the next few hours. The standoff continued until early morning, when members of the New Jersey State Police Technical Emergency and Mission Specialists (TEAMS) Unit fired pepper gas into the home, and subsequently entered and searched the home and an adjacent row home. Rodgers was found hiding in the adjacent home and was arrested without further incident.
The hostage and shooting incident was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team. Rodgers was indicted by a state grand jury on Jan. 10, 2012.
Under an Attorney General Directive, the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of deputy attorneys general, detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice and detectives of the State Police Major Crime Unit, are dispatched to the scene to handle investigations of shooting incidents involving state or county law enforcement officers.