The gleeful photo police took Wednesday parading newly caught murderer Danelo Cavalcante is sparking intense criticism from law enforcement experts – with one retired captain calling it “truly inhumane.”
More than 30 officers and federal agents – including a K-9 hero – gathered around a handcuffed Cavalcante shortly after his capture early Wednesday, ending a two-week manhunt for the “armed and dangerous” killer.
In helicopter footage, a colleague could be seen holding up a phone camera as the group crowded into the shot. Some even sat on their knees as Cavalcante stood in the middle.
“They take pride in their work,” Lt. Col. George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police said in defense of the snap.
“It doesn’t bother me at all that they took a photo while he was in custody.”
However, some police experts disagree.
“It’s not appropriate. It’s not ethical. It’s really inhumane,” said Niles Wilson, a retired Newark police captain who is now senior director of law enforcement initiatives at the Center for Policing Equity.
“From my experience as a law enforcement officer, I know how arrogant police can be, but that is no excuse for treating someone poorly.”
While taking photos with smartphones, particularly after a successful arrest, is becoming more common, many law enforcement agencies have social media policies that prohibit such posts on officers’ personal pages.
Still, experts say these rules are inconsistent and have not been implemented across the board by every agency.
“There are no standards or uniformity in these policies,” said Adam Scott Wandt, an associate professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“From a police ethics perspective, it is not OK for a police officer to take a photo on the street and post it on social media or do so as a celebration or retaliation,” Wandt said.
“As a lawyer, there is also an evidentiary problem here. It is a dangerous practice for a police officer to prepare evidence at a crime scene and not properly hand it over to the prosecutor.”
While the Pennsylvania State Police has a conduct policy that prohibits posting or sharing images of investigations or operations, as well as content depicting the agency’s uniform, badges or other official equipment without permission, it is unclear whether Wednesday’s photo would fall under this directive.
Leonard Sipes, a former officer who has worked in public affairs and communications for federal and state law enforcement agencies for 35 years, said he would have advised officers not to take the photo.
“The police had nothing to do with the publication of the photo. It was provided by a news source,” Sipes said.
“But posing with the suspect is questionable. If I had been on scene as a public affairs officer for a law enforcement agency, I would have advised against this.”
Various photos of Cavalcante immediately after his arrest circulated, including a shot of police dog Yoda holding him down and him getting bloody after the K-9 bit his scalp.
Cavalcante, 34, who escaped from Chester County Jail on August 31, had just been sentenced to life in prison for stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death in front of their two young children in 2021.
Prosecutors are expected to file additional charges for crimes he committed during his 14-day run.
In addition to murdering his ex-girlfriend, Cavalcante is suspected of shooting a friend six times during a dispute over car repair payments in his Brazilian hometown in 2017.
After this murder, he hid in Brazilian ranchland for weeks before making his way north and illegally entering the United States.
A preliminary hearing for Cavalcante is scheduled for Sept. 27, according to court documents. It says he was denied bail.
With post wires.