By Amethyst Martinez
In 2015, Jon Cannon, a man unaffiliated with Rider, was charged with criminal sexual contact after allegedly entering unlocked apartments in West Village B and touching two female students in their rooms while they slept. He also allegedly entered Delta Phi Epsilon’s house, but fled upon the police’s arrival.
A year later, he was charged with criminal sexual contact again after similar incidents occurred at The College of New Jersey. In 2021, Cannon was charged with burglary with a battery after an unknown man entered a dorm room at the New College of Florida in Sarasota and made “inappropriate contact,” according to an article by NJ.com.
Last year, Johnny Rodriguez-Brito was arrested on charges of third-degree burglary, peering and harassment, according to the Lawrence Township Police Department, after two female students were followed into their dorm hall by a man who posed as a delivery driver, but had no food in his hands.
“The man saw us walking to Lincoln [Hall] and literally ran to catch the door before it closed. If he could do that, then anyone can get in without swiping an ID to unlock the door,” said one of the female students during an interview with The Rider News last year.
After the incident, campus officials asked that everyone remain vigilant, lock their doors and call Public Safety to report anything suspicious.
Just a few weeks ago, Isaiah Sparks, another man unaffiliated with Rider, was arrested on campus and charged with trespassing. After a report of a suspicious person in Gee Residence Hall’s lounge on Sept. 15, police were called and Sparks was arrested.
Public Safety confirmed that Sparks was also connected to an incident on Sept. 5 where an individual was found sleeping in the lounge at Kroner Residence Hall and advised by Lawrence Police not to return to campus, subsequently banned from Rider by Public Safety.
Propping a door open for a friend, unknowingly opening it for someone unrecognizable in a dorm residence – a seemingly passive thought for most students at Rider and at universities nationwide.
However, the dangers of unlocked buildings are real, creating a safety issue for students who live in residence halls.
After The Rider News filed a public records request, law enforcement refused to produce Sparks’ photo. Public Safety also was not in the possession of a photo, despite Sparks’ alleged pattern of appearances at the university, and didn’t know he had one taken during his intake due to the charges, according to James Waldon, director of Public Safety.
The Rider News obtained Sparks’ photograph from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office on Oct. 5.
When asked if the photo would be sent out to the university community after finding out that one was taken, Waldon said that he would evaluate it, but said that the publishing in The Rider News “might suffice.”
“He hasn’t been back, and we don’t anticipate him coming back,” said Waldon.
Public Safety also did not have the photo of Rodriguez-Brito last semester after The Rider News requested it.
In a Facebook Group titled “Rider University Parents Network,” concerned parents questioned why Sparks’ photo wasn’t released to the school community after his arrest.
“Can they post pictures of him around campus so the students are aware and can report it if they see him? They should be posted on every door of every building,” commented one person.
Another commenter said, “I wish they would have released his picture, so our kids could be aware of this man.”
In all of these incidents, male trespassers have allegedly made their way into dorm buildings despite not having access, posing a potential threat to all students on campus.
Rider’s safety response
Each time, Public Safety and campus officials have urged the student body not to prop and hold doors open for people.
“If you don’t know the person who’s walking in the dormitory, you shouldn’t let them in,” said Waldon.
After the 52-minute shelter-in-place that occurred last semester following a hoax report of a potential shooter, cameras were installed for additional security, including at residence halls across campus, according to Mike Reca, Rider’s vice president for facilities and university operations.
Reca would not specify which residences had been outfitted due to safety concerns.
Fourteen cameras were installed this past summer in the residence areas that were funded by Rider’s Student Government Association, and six cameras were added to the exterior of certain residence buildings that were renovated over the past few years.
Reca also said that there are plans to add 10-12 new cameras over the next six months across campus with additional funding.
This issue, however, is not unique to Rider, as campuses across the country have reported break-ins from unaffiliated individuals.
In May at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, Washington, a man was arrested after allegedly breaking into two dorm buildings on campus and groping two female students while in their rooms, according to Fox 13 Seattle.
Harvard and New York University have also had issues with break-ins, according to multiple news reports.
Although campus officials and university police can repeat the same three common steps — don’t prop open doors, lock your room and don’t let people follow behind — students still fear one-off incidents where unauthorized individuals end up in the buildings.
Junior sociology major Jennie Mae Sprouse, who lives in Beckett Village, said that door holding for others is “pretty inevitable” on campus but stressed the importance of Sparks’ photo being released to the Rider community.
“There needs to be some type of accountability,” said Sprouse. “I can understand how there’s probably some red tape, but it makes you feel like they don’t care about the safety of the students on campus once again.”