Pennsylvania police official defends officers' group photo with captured fugitive Danelo Cavalcante

"They're proud of their work," a Pennsylvania State Police lieutenant said of the officers.

ByEric Levenson, CNNWire
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Escaped PA inmate captured after 2-week manhunt
He was found hiding in a large pile of logs behind a John Deere store in South Coventry Township, about 30 miles from the prison. Morgan Norwood reports.

After the Pennsylvania prison escapee Danelo Cavalcante was handcuffed Wednesday morning, but before he was placed into the back of an armored van, several dozen heavily armed officers gathered around him in an arc.

Cavalcante was positioned in the front, with an officer holding his arms. One officer holding a 22-caliber rifle went down to one knee and held the weapon up. The K-9 dogs involved in the search stepped toward the front. And other officers in the back spread out to get a clear view.

Together, they all looked in one direction - at an officer holding up a phone to take a photo.

The group photo, captured in overhead video from CNN affiliate KYW, came after a nearly two-week long manhunt for Cavalcante, a convicted murderer who escaped August 31 from a prison in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

At a news conference about an hour after his capture, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said he had no problem with the picture.

"Those men and women worked amazingly hard through some very trying circumstances," he said. "They're proud of their work. I'm not bothered at all by the fact that they took a photograph with him in custody. Again they're proud of their work. They kept the community safe. I say thanks to them and good job."

In all, about 500 law enforcement officers - including members of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and US Marshals - participated in the manhunt that took them through hilly, rugged terrain in a rural area about 30 miles from Philadelphia.

Danelo Cavalcante group photo
Escaped inmate Danelo Cavalcante was captured by law enforcement on September 13.

Cavalcante was captured Wednesday morning by a tactical team from the State Police and the US Border Patrol. A police dog subdued the fugitive before officers took him and his stolen .22-caliber rifle into custody, Bivens said.

The group photo was one of a number of police photos taken of Cavalcante. Displayed next to Bivens at the news conference was a photo of the fugitive in handcuffs and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt.

CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller said he believed a photo of the captured fugitive was important to show the community that the threat of the past two weeks was no more.

Chopper video shows police take escaped inmate Danelo Cavalcante into custody.

"I think it has a legitimate public purpose rather just for their photo collection," he said.

Charles Ramsey, the former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, expressed his disapproval of the group shot, referring to the image as a "trophy photo."

"I'm not a fan of that sort of thing. Be professional," he said. "You got him in custody. Do your job, and the rest of that stuff save for some other place."

CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI director Andrew McCabe said there was nothing illegal about the photo and praised the officers' efforts even as he acknowledged some criticism.

"Anything that we do that creates an impression of gratuitousness or kind of self-congratulatory feel, I think doesn't help the public's perception of law enforcement," McCabe said. "I think it's unfortunate but pretty small compared to the massive accomplishment they achieved."

Cavalcante stripped of clothes

Further, before Cavalcante was placed into the armored van, officers cut off his sweatshirt and revealed a large tattoo on his back, the overhead video shows. They then stripped him to his underwear, and an officer took several photos of the front and back of his left leg.

Stripping a prisoner is standard procedure, Bivens said. Cavalcante sustained a minor bite wound on his scalp from a police dog, Bivens said.

Miller said these photos were possibly to identify his markings or tattoos to make sure they have the right person.

In addition, stripping a prisoner of their clothes is a way to check that they don't have any dangerous items on them, McCabe said. Taking photos at this point can also document any injuries.

"He might be injured from his time out on the run, and you want to make sure you document his physical condition before you take custody of him inside of a car where he's locked in essentially with only two officers," McCabe said. "You want to make it very clear if he has been bruised or badgered or injured in some way, those things happened before he came into custody."