Editor’s note: The Sept. 20 Prison Board meeting was moved from the prison to the Commissioner’s Public Meeting Room, 6th Floor, 313 West Market Street, West Chester. The time remains 2:30 p.m.
The public is demanding answers from Chester County officials in the wake of Danelo Cavalcante’s escape from the county prison, and county commissioners have scheduled two town hall meetings on Sept. 18 and 20 to answer them.
But not in front of the press.
“We respectfully request that no media reporting, recording, or questioning take place during the Town Hall meetings (inside the building) so that we can respect the privacy of residents who are attending,” said Chester County Public Information Officer Rebecca Brain, speaking on behalf of the Chester County Commissioners.
It is a request that has some residents asking more tough questions about the county’s leadership.
“When I was a state representative, I held 15 town halls,” said Eric Roe, a Republican running for county commissioner. “The press was invited to attend each of them and ask me questions. Accountability is something to embrace – not to run from. The voters appreciate it when their elected officials stand up and give an account for what they’ve done and what they’ll do.”
Roe also raised the issue of the U.S. Constitution and the role of a free press.
“I would also argue that members of the press have a First Amendment right to attend a public forum like this. I’ve been to hundreds of public forums and town halls, and having the press in attendance has never stifled public comment.”
Guy Ciarrocchi, a former deputy attorney general who ran for Congress, said, “It is, sadly, no surprise that the Democrat majority commissioners have closed the town halls to the press—and prohibited filming. It’s another anti-democratic step against transparency.
“That decision comes after this month’s Prison Board meeting was scheduled to take place at the prison rather than the courthouse,” Ciarrocchi added. “The party that doesn’t agree to candidate debates held meetings on Zoom long after the COVID’ crisis,’ often requires citizens to pre-register for town halls, and has armed officers present is clearly continuing an alarming pattern of keeping citizens in the dark and making themselves unaccountable. I hope citizens demand changes, demand better, or remove those politicians who don’t want to be accountable.”
Cavalcante, a convicted murderer, escaped from the jail on August 31 using a method another inmate had used in May. The fact the same escape route was used twice has raised citizen’s ire over how the prison is being run. Although more razor wire was added, Cavalcante, who was also wanted for a separate murder in his home country of Brazil, was able to pass through it to freedom after crab-walking up to a roof.
“Imagine if a convicted murderer who entered our country illegally were in Chester County Prison awaiting transfer to a state institution and had not been allowed in a minimum-security exercise yard to exercise with other prisoners; or if he had been allowed this privilege, he had exercised alone and been heavily guarded while doing so,” said resident Sally Mininger at the September 14 county commissioners’ meeting.
“Imagine if Howard Holland, appointed by (Commissioners Chairman) Josh Maxwell as acting prison warden the day before the escape, had done his job. And imagine if we could take the money spent on this search to compensate the guards at the prison and perhaps even hire more.
“And furthermore, imagine if we were not a sanctuary county, the definition of which has been turned around to protect criminals from being deported, instead of the original intent to protect illegals reporting a crime. This effectively makes Chester County unsafe,” she said.
“Would we be concerned that while we remain a sanctuary county, and if nothing in our county changes, this same thing may happen again? Would I be here today standing at this podium?”
Bobbie Surrick, another resident, said the 14-day “mess’ was created by “bureaucratic incompetence.”
“Under the watch of the district attorney, sheriff, and prison board, a two-time murderer and an illegal, sentenced to life, was housed in the Chester County facility in Pocopson meant for criminals with sentences of 5 years or less, as I understand,” said Surrick. “Everyone in positions of responsibility who created the environment that allowed this escape and the ensuing bungling should be held to account. As of now, the fired guard in the tower is the fall guy. We need a full investigation.
“The residents of Chester County, your constituents who have been living in fear and being inconvenienced, deserve better. Let’s begin with accountability,” Surrick added.