Kingston teen club owner convicted of 2001 attack on girlfriend, boy

The owner of a struggling teen night club in Midtown Kingston is a convicted felon who served three-and-a-half years in state prison following a guilty plea for a 2001 domestic assault.

John C. Rhoades, 41, opened the Kingston Den in September to provide youth in Midtown with a safe, drug- and alcohol-free place to socialize. The nightclub offered pool tables, video games Wi-Fi access and other amenities for kids ages 10 to 18 during after-school hours and dance parties for 13- to 18-year-olds on the weekends. Rhoades’ effort drew praise and support from the youth arts enrichment program the Center for Creative Education and Kingston High School social worker Amy Kapes, who told the Kingston Timesthat she would recommend the club to students looking for safe after-school activities.

John Rhoades. (Photo by Carrie Jones Ross)

But it is unclear whether anybody connected with the club was aware of Rhoades’ criminal past. In August 2002, Rhoades began serving a four-year sentence for felony second-degree assault. He was released March 2006 and was under parole supervision until March 2009.

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Rhoades confirmed that the conviction was based on a domestic violence incident with a former girlfriend that occurred on Fathers’ Day 2001. An item published in the Times Herald-Record on June 20, 2001 cites state police officials’ account of the crime. According to the story, Rhoades arrived home late and intoxicated to a Father’s Day dinner at the New Windsor apartment of then-girlfriend Leza Warren. According to state police, in the ensuing argument Rhoades struck Warren and her 10-year-old son on the head with a wooden baseball bat. He was arrested two hours later after an off-duty state trooper spotted him on Broadway in Newburgh.

Rhoades confirmed the broad outlines of the incident, but disputed key points and offered documentation to show that there was more to the story than had been reported. A 2004 appellate court ruling affirmed a lower court’s refusal to allow Rhoades to withdraw his guilty plea based on his contention that he did not possess the adequate Mens Rea or “guilty mind” to commit the crime.

Rhoades said the 2001 incident was an aberration and that he has stayed out of trouble ever since. He also expressed concern that exposure of the incident would spell doom for the Kingston Den, an initiative he says he began for the best intentions, to give back to the community and help youth.

“That was a long time ago and I’ve gone through a lot of stuff and made a lot of changes since then,” said Rhoades.

Rhoades said his feeling the incident was a part of his life that was over and done with was why he didn’t talk about it up front. “It’s so far in the past … my focus was trying to do this teen dance club.”

There are 19 comments

  1. Dan

    So, the man paid for his crimes and has been on the straight and narrow for going on 11 years. He’s going out of his way to help the youth of the city (and surrounding area) to stay off the streets, away from drugs (a major problem in Kingston and kids of the age range listed within the article) and out of trouble. Yet the author of this piece and the initial commentor have chosen to focus solely on the negative part of this story (which wasn’t detailed in any sort of factual depth, merely hearsay from both sides) and hurt/withdraw support of an other positive and needed program from the children?

    Why not focus on the good the Den is doing and has done? Why not focus on the lives it’s likely saved? And more importantly, why refuse to help a program that’s helping our kids?

    What message is being sent here? That second chances aren’t deserved? That no matter how much a person cleans up and does right, it’s never enough? That it’s more important to cut off your nose to spite your face (ex. hurt the children this is benefiting to take a stand against someone you don’t know and a story you don’t have facts from)?

    I have no horse in this race. I no longer live in Kingston and I don’t know this guy from Adam. What I do know, however, is that we should be taking aim at the good things in order to sell stories and get hits.

    Drama sells papers, and in a dying industry, this amateur journalist needed something to grasp onto. Sadly, the very positive message here was lost on everyone because it’s not “attractive” enough to get the attention.

    An angry, violent felon (nearly 11 years removed, however)… Well, there’s a “story!”

    The only story about this story is that it’s a non-story. Meanwhile, the youth of the city is now going to be punished because this author wanted to make his $75 (the common pay-rate per story from Ulster Publishing).

    Shame. That $75 could have gone to help the Den and the kids, but you chose instead to line your pockets.

    What’s that say about you, Jesse?

    1. Jesse J. Smith

      Dan,

      Let’s start with the facts. I don’t do piecework. I’m the staff reporter for the Kingston Times and have been since December 2006. As for “amateur,” I suppose that’s subjective. All I can say is that I’ve been on staff at daily and weekly newspapers and at television stations in New York City, Kingston and Albany since 1997.
      As for your critique, you are correct, this was a “day one” story and lacked the depth that I would have given it with a few days lead time (there will be time for that later). What the story did have was two relevant facts. 1) John Rhoades pleaded guilty to a violent felony assault against a domestic partner and her child and 2) he runs a club for children and teens. Those facts are not in question, I confirmed them before we even thought of running the story. Journalists are not in the business of sparing people’s feelings or shielding worthy community organizations from negative attention. We are in the business of reporting facts that are of interest to our readers. Do you honestly believe that the parents who send their children to the Den have no legitimate interest in knowing about Mr. Rhoades past? How about the people who are donating their money to keep the Den going? Some people will read this story and say ‘I don’t care how long ago it was, or what he’s done since then I won’t entrust my kid to a guy who did that’ Other people will be more forgiving. Either way, it is clearly within the purview of a reputable news organization to report the facts and let readers take away from it what they will.
      The Kingston Times was presented with a story with indisputable news value. Given the circumstances (there is a fundraiser for the Den coming up on Sunday) the decision was made to run with the facts at hand and follow up with the context. I stand by my reporting and the professionalism and integrity of each and every one of my colleagues at the Kingston Times. One of the first things you learn is journalism school is that this is not a business for people who need to be liked by everybody. Slaughtering sacred cows is part of the job. I’m acquainted with Mr. Rhoades and I know him to be a decent, funny, all-around nice guy. But that doesn’t change the facts and it doesn’t change the news value of this story.

  2. Allison Gray Teetsel

    As far as I know, John has always been honest about his past. I am acquainted with John through the Kingston Neighborhood Watch, and I have seen him work hard, through his efforts there and with The Den, to try and improve our community. While I do not condone violence of any type, I acknowledge that the incident in question occurred over a decade ago, and that John has served his sentence through the justice system. I believe it is possible for a person to turn his life around, and I think that a venue such as The Den might, in fact, help give Kingston’s youth an alternative path to the road John went down. It saddens me that some are so quick to judge and condemn a person based on a single event from the past, rather than by a series of recent efforts. In addition, rehashing the events publicly like this can actually be harmful to the others involved in the incident. There is no need to re-victimize them. As a community, I would hope we could focus on the future, rather than dwelling on the past.

  3. gerald berke

    I think this is another case where pleading guilty can really get you screwed. Along with “If someone asks you if you are a god, say yes!!!!” And do NOT plead guilty. You might not be. Really! You might feel guilty, you might feel bad, but you might not be guilty before the law… you get your personal guilt or not, however you like it… and you will get judged on your acts. But the law, as it has been said, is an ass.
    I’m glad the Times wrote a long enough article, and talked with John. And I trust the system, I trust the small town safety: if there was shit I needed to know about, I would have known. I met John through the very best of people, and that was and will remain good enough for me. If and when these good people tell me otherwise, steady as she goes.
    Other people may fell differently: it’s a free country.

  4. Janai McDonough

    I know John and have never witnessed anything but a soft spoken, mild mannered man. I do NOT condone domestic violence and if I had read this article without actually knowing this man would have felt as Melissa does. Yet I do know him and I like him. He did something terrible 10 yrs ago and he paid the debt deemed apropriate by a court of law. He should not now, all these years later be tried again in the court of public opinion. Everyone has a past it’s what you do in the now and the future that counts. John has from what we now know been in the system, wouldn’t someone who has been there have the qualifications needed to help our youth stay off that path? Explaining to them how important it is to stay away from drugs and alchohol? He’s not someone who can’t or shouldn’t be around children and to put him in that catagory is unfair to say the least. Parents now know and can choose to keep their kids away or they can take advantage of the life experience that John has to offer. I will see you on December 18th

  5. Jerald

    I don’t understand why this article is even here. The man was found guilty according to the law and was duly punished. From the standpoint of this article, our first 25 years on Earth should be the basis for the next 25 as a rule. If the man made a mistake, that’s why we have courts, judges, juries, and newspapers to provide the necessary punishment and communal shame. However, it does not mean that decades after the issue, the newspaper gets to rehash the events. Sounds like he has someone at this paper who doesn’t like him every much. Better to get out of the political arena and stick to the current events.

  6. Joe

    Sounds like the guy made a mistake and has paid his debt and is trying to be a positive force in the community. I wish him well. As for the people who don’t think the reporter should have reported this, what do you think is a reporter’s job??? I have this knowledge and still support the club’s efforts, but just because the guy paid his debt to society, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen! Reporters report and then the community can make their decision based on the facts. If you want to remain ignorant of things, don’t read the paper.

  7. Amanda Schmidt

    As a member of the Kingston community, and as a former editor, I find this story and its decided inclusion in this paper shameful due to the non-relevance of its subject matter. The past becomes relevant when it has a connection to an event in the present, or an impending event in the future. Has an event happened regarding Mr. Rhoades or The Den of which I am unaware? I think not, and for that moral reason as a professional editor I would have killed this story, and as a community member am repelled by it . Question: Should we write articles about the pasts’ of all small business owners in our city? Or the pasts of youth drug and alcohol counselors? How about Mr. Smith’s past? Of course not. If not for trying to sell papers with the wrong sensationalism, this story has no relevance in our collective presence. I won’t be spending money on the Kingston Times anytime soon.

    1. Caroline

      Amanda, I think that’s ridiculous. Mr. Rhoades has a history of serious inability to control his temper. Maybe you want him around your kids but I don’t. The reporter is not providing entertainment for my children so his past is of no concern to me or you. If Mr. Rhoades lost his temper to the point of abusing his loved ones, it can happen again. Maybe it won’t, but you take that risj with your children, not mine. This reporter is stating the facts and you can choose to do with them what you wish, but choosing to remain ignorant is foolish.

  8. Jeremy

    Although it’s commendable that this man has apparently turned his life around and has become, by all accounts, a valuable, contributing member of the community, how can it not be relevant that he was was convicted of domestic violence? If he were managing a hardware store this story would not be news, but the man is operating a a club for teenagers! The job of the press is to keep the public informed. In this case, parents surely would want this information before entrusting their children to his supervision. I wish this man all the best in his efforts to improve the community and move forward from his past, but don’t impeach the integrity of a fine reporter for doing his job.

  9. Jim Williams

    A single act of violence and that has been referred to as a “history”? This was a single act, ten years ago, and to my knowledge there has been no repeat. Some people are making children the issue and yet no crime against children has been committed. Some are trying to justify that this is news worthy information and should be reported. Am I to believe that this “news worthy” story has been ignored for ten years? The writer is claiming to be a responsible reporter. Question, what were you responding to? I don’t know of any recent incidences that would prompt such an attack. The reporter says the public has a right to know the facts. If you’re going to report history, I have a scoop for you…”Japan Surrendered! America Won The War!” You might want to get on this before other reporters find out.

  10. jlw12401

    Congratulations Jesse! You single-handily wiped out a positive force for the teenagers of Kingston with your irresponsible article. Now these teens have no safe place to hangout, so its back to the streets of Kingston. You’re not a writer, you’re an opportunist with no morals or ethics. Hope you’re happy with yourself. FYI: Cancelled my subscription and urging others to do the same.

    1. admin

      Once again, this is Dan Barton, editor of the Kingston Times. The above comment is not in any way factual. John Rhoades told me himself that The Den was failing from a financial standpoint – he said he wasn’t taking in enough money to keep it viable, and the fact that he, only a few months after opening the club, was on Facebook saying he needed $2,200 this month to keep it open proves the point.
      Once again, I will state the only reason we did the story – we believed parents who were sending their kids to be in Rhoades’ care at his club have a right to know this information. It would have been irresponsible for us to keep this information to ourselves. We think John Rhoades is a nice guy who tried to do a good thing, but his business model didn’t work and he should have been up-front about his past when we did the first, fully supportive, story on The Den back in the fall. Did we think that running this story would win us any prizes in a popularity contest? No. But that’s what ethical journalism is REALLY about – telling people things they need to know, but don’t want to hear.

      1. jlw12401

        An event to save the club was upcoming when this article was published. That article greatly reduced the positive response to save this teenage club. His “crime” was 10 years ago. Where was this article in the past 10 years. Why was this “right to know” held until now? No one believes in coincidence. You speak of disclosure. Well, you are an editor of a popular publication and a position to influence all who read that paper. Unless you are a saint, you have a history that includes things that you are not proud of. Where is your disclosure? We, as readers, have a right to know. Or is that just reserved for your paper to decide where others are concerned and when it is most profitable to do so? Put your own “disclosure” on the front page and then tell us all that its ok, because we have a right to know. I won’t hold my breath on that article. You are never going to convince the Hudson Valley that your cause was righteous.

        1. jlw12401

          And please don’t claim or attempt to explain to me about “ethical journalism”. I was an Associate Editor for many years in Washington DC. I know all about ethics. I also know about opportunists who will do and write about anything to sell papers, regardless of the harm they cause or the irrelevance of the article being written. There is an ethical line and you crossed it.

  11. jessica baughman

    There was no reason for johns past to be brought up obviously someone has it out for him if anything this should’ve been written when the den first was about to be opened! I do not know him but i hear he’s a good guy and god bless him for trying to help our community! Keep your head up john!

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