The parents of a 20-year-old Philadelphia man fatally shot soon after he was released from a city jail in March have sued the city and corrections officials, saying his death was a direct result of the facility’s negligent policy of releasing inmates in the middle of the night with no means of transportation.
Rodney “Rodie” Hargrove, 20, was killed within 47 minutes of being released on bail from the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility just after 1 a.m. on March 18. Police have since charged a 16-year-old in his death and said the killing was a case of mistaken identity.
The lawsuit filed late Tuesday by his parents, Rodney and Cindy Hargrove, accuses the city and jail officials of “gross negligence, outrageous conduct and reckless misconduct” as well as indifference toward his safety and security “despite all the known dangers in defendants’ nighttime release policies and lack of proper security.”
“My baby wasn’t no trouble. He had little bumps, he made immature decisions, but he wasn’t no troubled kid,” Rodney Hargrove said during an interview Wednesday. “The little things that he did didn’t deserve the death sentence.”
Prisons spokesperson Shawn Hawes did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on the suit. Kevin Lessard, a city spokesperson, said he could not comment due to the pending litigation.
The release policy had come under scrutiny before; critics in an Inquirer story in 2019 questioned aspects of it, including the practice of freeing inmates late at night or, depending on the time, without cash, their phones, or their possessions.
In the wake of Hargrove’s killing, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons announced a new nighttime release policy, which offers transportation to those who need it, instructs those picking up individuals from the city bus stop across the street from the prison campus to do so within two hours of their release, and allows those being released to make a phone call to arrange for transportation.
Hargrove’s father, 47, wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of his son’s love of producing music with his cousin and his plans to enroll in a union apprenticeship program to become a plumber after graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in June.
He had been jailed on theft charges for a week when he posted bail late on March 17. Correctional officers then loaded him into a van and drove him 100 feet and dropped him off at a SEPTA bus stop across the street at 1:10 a.m., just missing the last bus of the night. The next bus would not come until 5:48 a.m., according to the suit.
As Hargrove waited in the dark, a car pulled up and gunshots were fired, prompting him to run onto prison grounds, where he was fatally shot multiple times, the suit states. The driver of the car was able to follow him into the parking lot because a parking gate that should have been closed was open and the guard who should have been in the booth operating the gate was not there, the suit states.
The senior Rodney Hargrove said that when his wife called the jail at 2:30 a.m. to learn when their son was to be released, she was told he had not yet been processed. In fact, he had already been killed.
“It’s shocking to have no system in place at that point to make sure that someone got home safely, to make sure that there was either a safe zone to pick up or ride-share service. To us, ‘shocks the conscience’ is the phrase,” said Gregory S. Spizer of VSCP Law, the Hargroves’ attorney.
Ameen Hurst, 16, of Philadelphia, has been charged with killing Hargrove. Based on ballistics evidence, police believe he is “at least one of the people responsible” for the slaying.
Hurst also faces murder and related charges in connection with two unrelated cases: a Christmas Eve killing in Overbrook and a quadruple shooting in Overbrook Park on March 11 that left two men dead and two injured.
In announcing the change in policy, Prison Commissioner Blanche Carney said city and jail officials “recognize that this murder erodes public trust in the safety and operations of PDP facilities and causes great concern for the families and friends of those employed at the PDP and those in our custody.”
But the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages, says the policy changes should have been in place long before that night “as the danger of late night releases was well known throughout the prison community.”
Named as defendants along with the city are its prison department, Carney, Wardens Nancy Gianetta and Michelle Farrell, 100 prison employees referred to as John Does, and 10 public agencies or private entities who were responsible for inmate safety.
“This could have all been prevented,” Hargrove’s father said. “My boy is not one of those street statistics, one of those street guys running around. He was a great kid. I just want to make sure that my baby is not forgotten, and definitely I want justice to be served. And I pray that this does not happen to another family.”