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BRIDGETON — Representatives of state and local police unions have condemned the pretrial release of an 18-year-old Vineland man charged in the stabbing death of a South Jersey corrections officer.

Pat Colligan, the president of the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, and Stuart Alterman, an attorney who represents PBA Local 231, the union that represents officers at the Cumberland County jail, and PBA 105, said they are “outraged” by the recent release of Zachary T. Latham.

They blame the state’s bail reform laws and are asking officials to put him back behind bars in a letter to county Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae and in a news release.

“I would hope that the court’s decision to let Latham walk shocks the conscience in your office as well,” Colligan wrote in the letter dated May 15. “As such, I am writing to request that you pursue every option available to you to press for the incarceration of an obviously disturbed and dangerous killer.”

Colligan said Saturday his letter was “more in frustration of the system,” adding that it was “stunning” that a judge would release Latham,but that the Prosecutor’s Office is appealing the decision.

Webb-McRae declined to comment on the letter and news release, as well as whether the office had submitted an appeal.

Latham, of Thornhill Road, who was charged with aggravated manslaughter in the May 4 stabbing death of 51-year-old William T. Durham Sr., also of Thornhill Road, was released from county jail on Level II pretrial monitoring after a detention hearing May 14.

Durham worked for just shy of two decades as a senior correctional police officer at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.

Durham “was unarmed, rendered defenseless and disabled by the stun gun when the vicious stabbing attack which took Durham’s life occurred,” Alterman wrote.

Witnesses of the stabbing said that there was a confrontation between Latham and his wife and Durham Sr. and his wife, according to previous reports.

Durham and his two sons, a 17-year-old who was not identified by authorities and William T. Durham Jr., 21, went to Latham’s home, where Zachary was armed with a knife and stun gun.

A second altercation happened in Latham’s driveway and in the garage of the home, officials said. Durham Sr. was stabbed several times.

Latham is also charged with two counts of second-degree aggravated assault, four counts of third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon.

As conditions of his release, Latham will have to report to court staff twice a month, once in person and once over the phone, court records show.

He is prohibited from having contact with any of the witnesses, as well as possessing a firearm, destructive device or other dangerous weapon, and from being in the vicinity of Thornhill Road.

“New Jersey’s bail reform law was sold to the law enforcement community as a matter of fairness to ensure poor defendants weren’t incarcerated for simply having unpaid fines or for warrants that anyone in law enforcement would consider minor,” Colligan wrote. “That sales pitch was obviously a cover for something far more sinister.”

The reforms have “led to cop killers, child predators, drug lords and repeat offenders to simply walk away from justice,” he added.

The Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, implemented Jan. 1, 2017, aimed to decrease jail populations and save costs for counties by eliminating bail in most criminal cases and using a public safety assessment score that helps a judge determine whether to release or detain a defendant.

Officials and advocates say it’s fairer and better than the monetary bail system.

In a November report, state court data showed that since bail reform took effect, there have been fewer arrests for minor charges, more complaint-summonses issued than complaint-warrants, more defendants released from jail pretrial without conditions and reductions in the length of time defendants spend in jail before trial.

Alterman argued that Latham had intent to commit murder, and that he “demonstrated a pattern of harassment” against Durham and his family over several weeks prior to the killing, including social media posts that “illustrate the sociopathic pleasure that he took in harassing” the family.

Colligan said that Latham went out of his way to attack the family, and had targeted Durham’s children “with his car more than once” and allegedly punched Durham’s wife the day of the murder.

“Rather than admit wrongdoing, Latham continued to get more violent when confronted,” Colligan said.

“His possession and use of an illegal stun gun to incapacitate Officer Durham before he stabbed him to death is likely one more sign that he intended this violent scenario to come to fruition.”

Latham did not have to and should not have been released, Alterman said.

“We do know bail reform certainly works in favor of criminals,” he said. “The bail reform and Latham’s release proves it. Its methodology is defective, and this new system of criminal justice is anything but fair. The system is broken.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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