The following editorial ran Wednesday in The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader.
How Eric Frein’s face got scraped and bloodied matters, not for reasons grounded in sympathy, but because the rule of law shouldn’t apply to some of us and not to others.
The lone suspect in the Sept. 12 ambush of two Pennsylvania state police troopers outside a Pike County barracks, one of whom was killed, is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. In a courtroom.
State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan initially explained that the abrasions on Frein’s face, evident in photographs and video taken soon after his capture last week, had been sustained prior to his arrest. A state police official repeated that information a day later, saying, “those injuries occurred to him at some point in his flight.”
However, the U.S. marshals who apprehended Frein, 31, gave a different account.
The suspect, who reportedly gave up without a struggle, got a gash over his nose and other abrasions while they had him down on the pavement, they told the Associated Press. Frein reportedly was unarmed at the time the marshals snagged him near an abandoned airplane hangar in the Poconos. Investigators later seized three guns and ammunition from inside the hangar, according to search warrant documents released today.
Frein — accused of a heinous act against law enforcement, and society — has not been heard from publicly since his arrest; he faces charges including first-degree murder. During a 48-day manhunt, state police characterized the suspect as a “survivalist.” More recently, survival experts interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested his skills were overrated.
If, as state police told the news media, Frein hurt himself during his nearly two months in the woods, so be it.
If, as marshals on the scene stated, Frein’s face got pushed into the pavement while they forcibly secured the alleged killer and fugitive, that’s understandable.
But if someone walloped the guy as retribution for his alleged despicable deeds, that’s unacceptable. This isn’t the Wild West. The thing that separates our society from, say, ISIS in Iraq is that justice isn’t meted out by angry mobs, it’s delivered only after due process. That dare not change — for the nation’s sake, for your sake and, most especially, for the sake of anyone accused of a terrible crime.
What happened to Frein’s face matters, because it says something about how much faith all of us can place in our law enforcement officers to do the right thing. They’re entrusted to stick to the rules when the public is following their every move and, more so, when no one is watching.