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People v. Rodgers

November 19, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-CF-863 Honorable Robert P. LeChien, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn


When darkness falls over the town of East St. Louis, Illinois, and the moon glistens on the black waters of the Mississippi, a riverfront hangout known as Affirmation East comes to life. Bartenders pour drinks, "Oatmeal" Gines spins records, and patrons make merry on a strobe-lighted dance floor. People can literally stay there all night long and, if they choose, dance until dawn.

The Affirmation East boasts two things that a lot of other nightclubs scattered around East St. Louis do not offer. First of all, it works very hard at making the club a safe place to be. Management insists upon a high level of security. Most of its patrons do not mind passing through its metal detector or complying with a routine request to search before being allowed to enter. Security is strictly enforced by a fleet of unarmed security guards. Even police officers are denied admittance if carrying a service revolver.

In addition to its reputation for providing a safe environment for patrons, Affirmation East is known for its famed fried chicken. The club features it nightly and makes sure that there is always plenty on hand to satisfy early morning appetites.

On July 25, 1999, at approximately 4 a.m., Brett Rodgers steered a drunken path to the Affirmation East, intent on satisfying a sudden hunger for its prized cuisine. Unfortunately, he arrived with more of an appetite for trouble than poultry, and when security personnel tried to block his admission, things really turned foul.

Five years earlier, Rodgers came home to East St. Louis after a stint in the navy and a combat tour of duty in the Middle East. He went to school, graduated, and got a job fighting a different kind of enemy. He became a lawman. His patrol of East St. Louis haunts and byways brought him in contact with more than a few drunk drivers and gun-toting bullies.

July 25, 1999, was the day that Brett Rodgers' law enforcement career ended. On his trip to the Affirmation East, he traded his time in a police uniform for time in a prison jumpsuit. He lost his badge, and he lost his freedom, when, in a fit of drunken anger, he shot a security guard in the leg for trying to block his admittance. A St. Clair County jury dismissed his claim that he was too intoxicated to know what he was doing. He currently serves an eight-year prison term for driving under the influence of alcohol and committing an aggravated battery with a firearm.

Rodgers asks us to overturn his aggravated-battery-with-a-firearm conviction. He maintains that the evidence belies the jury's verdict. He wants us to overrule the trial judge's denial of a motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding that verdict. The facts of the case are clear and uncontradicted.

At around 4 a.m. on the morning of July 25, 1999, Carlos Johnson and Sanchez Sylvester, two Affirmation East security guards, saw Rodgers pull up in front of the club. Rodgers got out of his vehicle and moved several orange cones that served as a barrier to parking in front of the club. The area was reserved for use only by very important patrons. Johnson and Sylvester did not think that Rodgers was so qualified. As Rodgers pulled into his newly created parking spot in front of the club, Johnson and Sylvester left their posts to inform him that his Suburban would have to be moved from the reserved area.

Rodgers had enough alcohol in his system to incapacitate most men. His blood would later test out at a .268 blood-alcohol concentration. The state of inebriation no doubt fueled a belligerent attitude over the security guards' request that he find another parking spot. Rodgers told them, "You've got to be kidding," and defiantly exited his vehicle. Johnson saw Rodgers take his service revolver from the passenger seat where it rested, reach behind himself, and tuck it down the small of his back into his pants.

Sylvester remained unaware of the fact that Rodgers was armed. He told Rodgers that he could not enter the club in tennis shoes. As Rodgers approached the club's entrance, he announced that he was an East St. Louis police officer and explained that it was a status that afforded him certain license. Even though the club might not want him to park where he did or come into the club with tennis shoes on, he could park wherever he pleased and wear whatever he wanted. As Rodgers succinctly defined the license of his office, "I can do what the fuck I want to do."

Rodgers was about to take this proclamation of authority to disobey parking restrictions and nightclub dress codes to a greater height.

As Sylvester stood between him and the door, Rodgers clenched his fists and advanced for a fight. Sylvester sent him to the ground with a right to the jaw. It is unfortunate for Johnson, ...

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