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Man frisked by Gov. Whitman shot dead in Camden

A Camden man who was infamously photographed in 1996 being frisked by a smiling Gov. Christie Todd Whitman was shot dead early Saturday morning after a party.

Sherron Rolax, 28, was killed shortly before 1 a.m. on Louis Street in Camden, said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's office. No suspects have been identified.

Rolax spent most of his adult life in and out of prison on drug charges. He was most recently paroled in July.

Rolax, who is African American, was 17 in May 1996 when state police searched him on a Camden street corner. The event eventually turned him into a symbol in the debate over racial profiling, and led to one of the biggest scandals of Whitman's administration.

Whitman, then New Jersey's governor, was riding along with six state troopers during a crackdown on drug crimes. The troopers spotted Rolax with his friends near an intersection known for drug trafficking and surrounded the group.

Troopers ordered Rolax to place his hands against the side of a building and patted him down. Finding no drugs or weapons, they offered Whitman a turn.

A trooper snapped a souvenir photograph as Whitman, smiling broadly, searched Rolax.

Four years later, the picture was leaked to newspapers and television shortly before the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The image caused an uproar among minorities and some New Jersey Democrats, with activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton alleging that Whitman's pat-down constituted a civil rights violation.

By then, Rolax was serving time for possession of crack cocaine in a school zone. Less than a year after the photograph was taken, in December 1997, he had been arrested on the same corner on which he was frisked.

In April 2001 Rolax sued Whitman, the state police and the state of New Jersey for discrimination, battery, and invasion of privacy. In the lawsuit, Rolax alleged that he had been the victim of a "cavalier attitude" toward racial profiling on the part of Whitman and the troopers.

Whitman, then head the Environmental Protection Agency, admitted the search was a mistake.

A federal judge eventually dismissed the case, saying that it had been filed after the two-year statute of limitations had expired.

Saul Steinberg, the Camden attorney who represented Rolax in the civil rights suit, said today that though the publication of the photograph caused political fallout at the time, it did not seem to affect Rolax in a significant way.

"Some things that seem so dramatic and so newsworthy are yesterday's news before you know it," Steinberg said. Rolax "had a lot of other things going on in his life at the time. He was in prison. And to say that it had a big impact on his life, I don't think that it did."

In 2002, after being released from prison, Rolax was again arrested for possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was arrested again in 2006 on the same charges. He served less than a year before his release.

Early Saturday, Rolax was at a party on the 1500 block of Louis Street in Camden's Whitman Park neighborhood when an argument broke out between his friends and some other people, Laughlin said.

Someone pulled a handgun and shot Rolax on the street, less than a block from the party, at 12:48 a.m., Laughlin said. The gun has not yet been found.