Monday, October 13, 2014

Frein Manhunt In Disarray As Unanswered Questions Continue To Pile Up

As the manhunt for state trooper killer Eric Frein lurches toward its sixth week, the Pennsylvania State Police are on the defensive because of the latest scandal to tarnish the long troubled agency, while a law-enforcement insider says the search itself is in disarray.

The insider, who has many years of experience in tracking and surveilling criminal suspects, asked that his name not be used.  He acknowledges that any search the size of the Frein manhunt involving disparate law-enforcement agencies, in this case the state police, local and regional police forces, as well as the FBI and ATF, is bound to encounter some jurisdictional bumps and bruises.  While the various groups are assigned their own search sectors, the insider said they "are barely cooperating because every group wants to be the one to catch him."
"It's a clusterf---," said the insider, who confirmed the accuracy of an earlier Kiko's House post and updates on the dragnet.  "The locals [local police forces] know more than they're telling the state police and the feds."

Frein (pronounced Freen) shot and killed state police Corporal Bryon Dickson and wounded Trooper Alex Douglass on September 12 in a sniper-style attack in the late evening darkness as they changed shifts at a barracks in Blooming Grove, a small Pike County community about 20 miles north northeast of Frein's parents' house in the village of Canadensis in Monroe County.  The self-trained backwoods survivalist crashed his Jeep near Blooming Grove and is believed to have hiked south southwestward through nearly unspoiled forest to an area near Canadensis that provides many hiding places not visible from the air, let alone on the ground a hundred yards away.
In the early days of the manhunt, a state police spokesman repeatedly stated that searchers were closing in on Frein and there were repeated but largely unconfirmed sightings of the 31-year-old, who likes to dress up like a Serbian soldier and play Cold War-style games, and has long harbored a well-documented grudge against law enforcement. 
The number of apparent sightings since then has diminished, and the boastful claims that searchers had found items belonging to Frein have sometimes blown up in their faces.  Case in point: The state police spokesman crowed that soiled diapers left by Frein had been recovered during the manhunt.  It turns out the diapers would only fit an infant and had been in the woods for some time. 

The latest scandal to hit the state police reaches all the way to the top: Commissioner Frank Noonan is among several high-ranking state officials to receive emails with pornographic content.  Several officials have resigned or been fired, but Noonan told Governor Tom Corbett that he never opened any of the 300-plus pornographic emails he received, which exonerates him in the eyes of an ethically challenged gubernatorial administration.  By this standard, Noonan could drive past a gang rape in his official car while on duty, not try to stop the rape nor even notify authorities of it, and therefore is absolved of responsibility because he didn't get involved. 
* * * * *

One of the more curious aspects of the Frein drama is why his parents have not issued an appeal urging their son to surrender.  A state police spokesman has said it is believed the fugitive has a radio or other means of monitoring news reports, so why not have his parents record a message, which could additionally be broadcast from loudspeakers on the helicopters flying over the search area?  Indeed, why not?
Among other questions being asked but not answered:

* Will the state police learn from the mistakes investigators made in the five-year-long manhunt for 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and expand their search from the area where they have been focused from Day One?  Like Frein, Rudolph was a well-trained survivalist and like the Frein manhunt, in his case searchers also concentrated on a specific area of forest.  Rudolph finally was apprehended after he was found rummaging through a grocery store trash bin away from the search area.

* How much is the manhunt costing and where is the money coming from?  The spokesman will only say that "millions of dollars" have been expended.
* At what point will the search for Frein begin to seriously impact on other parts of the regional criminal-justice system, or has it already?  In just one of a growing number of instances, charges recently were dropped against a man who slapped a state police horse at Musikfest in Bethlehem because the trooper riding the horse was unable to attend the trial because he was involved in the manhunt.

Meanwhile, as a career journalist, it has been dismaying to watch the Pocono Record abdicate its responsibilities and concede the biggest story to hit the region since back-to-back hurricanes took 78 lives in 1955, to its competitors.  
The Allentown Morning Call and Scranton Tribune Times, which have some circulation in Monroe County, have aggressively covered the manhunt.  These papers have repeatedly broken stories that require enterprise and shoe leather -- and that the Record shamelessly picks up and runs on its front pages, while major media outlets like The Philadelphia Inquirer and CNN have run circles around the Record.  That is understandable to an extent.  Both the Inky and CNN have reporters who have sources deep within the FBI and ATF, but that does not explain why Record reporters seem reluctant to even leave their newsroom. 

* * * * * 
So why didn't Noonan notify Corbett of the pornographic emails, which he received while chief of the criminal division in the Office of Attorney General, which was headed by the governor-to-be at the time?  Why did he still not notify Corbett of the emails after Corbett named him state police commissioner?  We probably will never know, because the state police modus operandi has long been to close ranks and stonewall any questions about its own standards, or simply lie when confronted.  (The state police are virtually alone among state agencies exempt from Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law.) 
I know about the state police propensity to lie first- and second-hand.
While researching my 2010 book on the unsolved 1981 ax murder of Eddie Joubert, a popular bar owner and civic leader in the eastern Poconos village of Delaware Water Gap, I repeatedly contacted the state police in order to confirm that the murder was  considered a "cold case."
As I wrote in the Afterword of the book:
"Repeated calls elicited a range of excuses about why this simple piece of information was not forthcoming, and I had to threaten to go to higher ups if my request was not answered.  It finally was, and the case is indeed as cold as a midwinter night in the Poconos.
"How cold is that?  A subsequent query revealed that the commander of the Swiftwater barracks [the primary state police unit in the Poconos] asserts that unsolved murder cases such as Eddie's are assigned to troopers who are required to spend some time each year on them.  But Eddie, it seems, did not make the cut.  This is borne out by family members, [his] employees, friends and law enforcement officials whom I interviewed who state that they were not aware of any state police activity whatsoever regarding Eddie's case over the past 28 years."
The state police had no reason to lie, but they lied anyway, which is a deeply ingrained part of its culture and also was the common denominator when a close friend was twice stopped by state police  in recent years while driving and hit with bogus charges. 
In both cases, my friend knew she had done nothing wrong and requested trials to appeal the tickets, although the fines were minor.  In one case, two troopers lied about the circumstances, the judge rolled over, and my friend had to pay the fine and court costs.  In the other case, the trooper lied about the circumstances, the judge was rightfully skeptical of the cock-and-bull story the trooper told, and the charge was dismissed. 
All of this begs a very important question: What lies are the state police telling regarding the Frein manhunt and investigation?

Image from Japan Times

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