Monday, September 18, 2023

Space tames law, dog tames fugitive: Cavalcante captured after two week manhunt

On August 31, convicted killer Danilo Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County Prison, located in West Chester, PA. This past Wednesday, after 2 weeks on the run, Cavalcante was captured in South Coventry Township, nearly 20 miles away from the prison he escaped. While on the run, Cavalcante stole a van, stole a gun, and hid in the deep woods of southeastern Pennsylvania, all while avoiding a massive manhunt involving as many as 500 law enforcement officers. 

As the video of Cavalcante "crab walking" up the walls of the prison went viral, locals were terrified. Cavalcante was a known murderer who stabbed his girlfriend in front of her children. He was clearly dangerous and posed a threat to the community. This threat was amplified when Cavalcante stole a rifle from a local homeowner. 

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from a veritable alphabet soup of agencies combed the area on foot and horseback using dogs, drones, and aircraft with advanced surveillance technologies to look for signs of the fugitive. Meanwhile, Cavalcante hid in woods so thick with foliage that officers reportedly walked past him without realizing it

This wasn't Cavalcante's first rodeo. In 2017, he fled the Brazilian town of Figueirópolis, where he was wanted in connection with a murder. After hiding from the authorities and taking refuge among the cattle ranches of the northern savanna, he escaped to the US with a false identity. 

After numerous sightings, days of intense searching, and a near-miss where a local homeowner shot at Cavalcante, a surveillance aircraft with thermal imagining technology found a heat signature. Two tactical teams were deployed to the area. In a dramatic moment fit for the big screen, a police dog named Yoda subdued Cavalcante, holding the killer down while he attempted to grab his stolen rifle. 

Cavalcante sustained a minor bite wound and was arrested with no shots fired.  

The Cavalcante manhunt echoes a similar manhunt in upstate New York where issues of geography complicated search efforts. The New York search was covered on the blog here

It also illustrates Professor Lisa Pruitt's argument in her chapter "The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space" that rural spatiality limits the ability of the state to impose the rule of law on the countryside. In essence, the vast expanse, low population density, and natural landscape resist the law. Space "tames" the law, which seeks to "tame" space. Professor Pruitt's theory of rural spatiality's effect on the law is covered in more detail here

Likewise, Ralph A. Weisheit, Ph.D., David N. Falcone, Ph.D., and L. Edward Wells, Ph.D noted in their article "Rural Crime and Rural Policing" that rural isolation negatively impacts rural law enforcement in several ways. Rural police have to patrol significantly larger areas. Sometimes, this means officers patrol alone with no witnesses and the grim knowledge that any backup is miles away. Generally, it means law enforcement will take longer to respond to emergencies and are forced to contend with the natural barriers presented by geography and wilderness. 

Simply put, rural isolation spreads the law thin. 

While Cavalcante was able to use the space inherent to rurality to his advantage, "taming" the law for a time, he was eventually caught thanks to the tireless efforts of law enforcement, the use of advanced technology, and the heroism of man's best friend. 

However, not every rural crime becomes national news. Not every rural crime draws significant resources from the state and federal governments. More often than not, rural police must go about their business without the benefit of drones and expensive surveillance aircraft. The law won this round, but space is far from being down for the count. 


Katie Eng said...

Thank you for posting about this! I have been meaning to follow up on what happened after our discussion in class. I was stunned to learn the other day that Cavalcante spider-crawled up a wall that another prisoner escaped over just a few months ago. The escape and capture of Cavalcante is a vivid example of the challenges rural law enforcement face. Rural police patrol large areas with limited backup, leading to longer response times and greater reliance on the community. While technology and dedication (and national news) ultimately helped find Cavalcante, this episode is a reminder of the need to invest in keeping rural communities safe – whether through law enforcement or other community-based care.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here's another story where "space tames law tames space" arguably came into play--the gunman, Mr. Card, who killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine a few days ago and has been found, dead, today:

Here's a relevent quote:

The hunt for Mr. Card had extended across much of a largely rural state with many potential hiding places, producing an atmosphere of high anxiety as helicopters whirred over farms and forests, police cruisers roared along rural roads and divers plunged into the chilly waters of the Androscoggin River.