Candidates and members of the Chester County GOP held a rally on the steps of the old courthouse Wednesday in the wake of the escape of murderer Danelo Cavalcante.
Cavalcante, who was wanted for murder in his native Brazil, brutally stabbed his girlfriend to death in front of her children. A jury convicted him, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison in August.
While he was being held at the Chester County Prison awaiting transfer to a state prison, on Aug. 31, Cavalcante “crab-walked” up two walls in a narrow corridor to the jail’s roof and made his way off the premises to freedom.
Another inmate used that approach in May, escaping too, but was quickly recaptured.
Also, on Wednesday, the county Prison Board, which includes the county commissioners, sheriff, and district attorney, held a meeting and voted on renovations to the jail, including walls to enclose the exercise yards.
The Republicans promised if the voters elect them, they would do better than the Democrats, who now hold all the county row offices except one commissioner’s seat reserved for the minority party. They all praised the efforts of law enforcement officials who tracked Cavalcante down.
“The world is watching. In my hands is an article from The Washington Post that details how our detractors reveled in our chaos since Cavalcante escaped and made this monster of a man into a cult hero,” said Eric Roe, a former state representative running for county commissioner. “All because our county’s leaders failed to keep him locked up in prison.”
Roe recounted how “men and women stayed awake at night, keeping watch over their home while their spouses and children slept. I was struck by the number of people who listened out their windows for the sound of rustling leaves and footsteps and the sight of flashlights in nearby woods.”
“People move here and choose to remain here because safety, until recently, has been at the core of the Chester County experience. But all that changed on Aug. 31. We have to get that back. As your county commissioner, I’ll see to it that we do get that back. Chester County is watching.”
Commissioner candidate Dave Sommers, a teacher, said, “The primary role for any government is the safety and wellbeing of its residents. Chester County Commissioners are responsible for ensuring the safety for our communities as outlined in the Prison Mission Statement. However, the safety of Chester County was placed in jeopardy.”
“What more evidence need we provide that local and municipal elections matter?” asked Sommers. “Your daily life, for good or bad, is greatly affected by those you entrust to hold public office. Motivation to vote has become very clear over the past three weeks. Chester County deserves better from its elected officials.”
Roy Kofroth, a former Chester County sheriff’s deputy now running for sheriff, said he had been a deputy under the previous sheriff and the current sheriff, as well as a small business owner.
“Just four years ago, our Sheriff’s Office had approximately 60 working deputies, the ones that you see protecting our buildings, in the courtrooms, transporting prisoners, among other jobs. We now have around 17-18. That means the office is running at one-third capacity.
“We had eight award-winning dogs; that is one-quarter of what we used to have. We had a fugitive apprehension team. That’s gone…The Sheriff’s Office is so unprepared it it was only a matter of time before something would happen.
In the words of Chester County Prison Warden Howard Holland on Monday, ‘If we had dogs, we would have gotten him that day.’”
Ryan Hyde, a lawyer running for district attorney, said, “Three weeks ago, most of us can say our bubble was shattered. The idea of public safety became a punch line for people. I heard on the news he was within two and a half miles from my house. I didn’t sleep that night. An armed and dangerous felon was in the towns within Chester County.”
People tell Hyde they never locked the doors on their homes and cars, but now they do. And they’re noticing more crime.
“Two men, two nights ago, took hammers and broke into a kids’ toy shop to steal Pokemon cards. Last night in West Chester, a man wrestled with two police officers.
“The time where we say that doesn’t happen in Chester County is long gone. Part of it is because of what I like to call erosion,” he said. “We learned to take a little bit more each time. We learned to accept a little bit more.”
“My opponent came out with an ad that says he ‘thinks about public safety.’ All of us think about public safety. All of us do. All of us want to walk out in our yard and be safe. And all of us want to know if someone does break into their house, not only will they be captured, but they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That’s what we need…We want to go to a world where the police and District Attorney are responsive,” said Hyde.
He promised to bring law and order back to the county if elected.
Chester County GOP Chairman Raffi Terzian led the group of about 25 supporters in a chant, “Chester County deserves better.”
As for their Democratic opposition in the wake of the Cavalcante escape, Terzian said, “Now these elected officials are asking us to re-elect them or promote them to a judicial position. I say Chester County deserves better. This episode exposed a series of systemic problems and failures.”
“We deserve highly competent leadership who puts the interests of its citizens first, who prioritizes safety and security, who act with transparency as the bottom line. We cannot trust those who created the problem to fix it. It is time for a change.”
In contrast, Chester County Democratic Chair Charlotte Valyo praised the Democrat officials after Cavalcante was captured.
“We can be proud of our elected officials who remained calm and continued to do their jobs under the duress of public scrutiny and criticism,” Valyo said. “Now they are free to share the actions and plans being implemented to ensure this situation does not happen again. Our elected officials have governed well through every crisis presented to them, and they will continue to make the decisions that are best for all of Chester County.”