|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that a Salem City man was sentenced to 62 years in state prison today on multiple 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 sentenced to 62 years in state prison, including nearly 52 years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Timothy Farrell. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison on the attempted murder charges, 85 percent of which must be served without parole under the No Early Release Act, and a concurrent sentence of 17 years in prison on the kidnapping charges. He received an additional mandatory consecutive sentence of seven years in prison, including five years of parole ineligibility, for possessing a gun as a convicted felon. He received concurrent sentences on the remaining charges of which he was convicted.
Rodgers was found guilty at trial by a Salem County jury on Aug. 8 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.
“This sentence represents a major victory for law enforcement,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “It stands for the proposition that we, as a society, will impose the harshest punishment on anyone who uses deadly force against those who serve as our guardians.”
“The lengthy prison sentence imposed on this defendant reflects the seriousness of his crimes,” said Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “The brave law enforcement officers and police dog all survived the gunfire they encountered when they rushed into Rodgers’ home to protect the hostages he had taken, but any one of them could easily have been killed. Clearly a man who would open fire upon police is a grave threat to the public and needs to be kept behind bars.”
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.
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.