LORDS VALLEY - Emergency services of the counties of Pike and Monroe were deeply affected by the Frein manhunt as the landscape’s woodlands transitioned from green to red, orange, yellow and brown three years ago. So did the Pocono tourist economy, which took a back seat to the concentrated effort to capture the man who killed a trooper in cold blood.
These were just a portion of the many faceted consequences of the sudden terror unleashed the night of September 12, 2014, when shots rang from the darkened woods across Route 402, aiming at two State Police troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks. The mystery sniper left one trooper dead, the other gravely wounded, and a populace that swiftly became gripped in a range of emotion, including fear, rage, nervousness, sorrow and sympathy.
Members of the Pennsylvania Senate and local State Representatives gathered for a hearing June 15th at the Pike County Training Center in Lords Valley. This was the same place that became the PA State Police Command Center for several weeks, coordinating the massive search involving around 1,000 people and resources from multiple federal, state and local agencies.
The Senate’s Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee held the hearing, at the request of their member, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th), whose district includes Pike and Monroe counties where the manhunt actually occurred.
The hearing was purposely delayed until after the trial and conviction of Eric Frein, which occurred this April in Pike County Court. Frein was sentenced to the Death Penalty.
The panel included chairman, Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-38th); Senator Baker; Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-21st) and the three local State Representatives, Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189), Rep. Mike Peifer (R-139) and Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-111).
This is part four of the report, covering the five hour hearing.
Pike County Commissioner /Chairman Matthew Osterberg testified that every resource the county had was made available. This included use of the Pike County Training Center, mapping resources, use of the county correctional officers and the sheriff’s department for security and IT support.
Although given guarantees that the county would be reimbursed by the state, Osterberg said they kept hearing, “where is your written contract?”
Through the efforts of Senator Baker, the county was ultimately reimbursed $140,000.
He recommended:The state needs to develop a standing contract or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with local governing agencies that defines obligations, expectations and reimbursement for out of pocket expenses. The law enforcement agency assigned as the lead agency should appoint a screening officer to assist local efforts to clear individuals requesting access to the facility involved and provide high levels of clearance to those requesting it. Personal protection equipment (bullet proof vests) needs to be supplied to local personnel. In the Frein case, local fire companies were asked to block roads, but the individuals had no protection.
Timothy Knapp, Pike County Emergency Management Director, said that in giving up use of their facility, they were challenged in keeping up with day to day operations. Among several recommendations he made:
Knapp stated that it was an advantage being a small county, because those needed to expedite a task live here. As an example, the county needed to increase band width in the training center and correct a Wi-Fi issue. Both tasks were handled within hours and not days due to the fact that relationships had already been formed living and working in a small county.
Warden Craig Lowe said that the Corrections Department transported tactical teams. This posed a concern, he said, because of the lack of bullet proof vests for his staff, and that his vehicles did not have emergency lights or radios.
Once Frien was captured, the Corrections Department had to transport him three times, each time presenting a security compromise, Lowe said. Three times, they were almost involved in crashes, including a vehicle that cut them off in the convoy.
Lowe advised that “Corrections” be added to the list under the statute allowing what departments may have emergency lights on their vehicles.
Sheriff Philip Beuki described his department’s role in assisting with the command center logistics, local police and in augmenting security at school campuses.
He said his department was able to get rifle-proof vests thanks to the county commissioners.
The sheriff fielded many calls from concerned citizens.
District Attorney Raymond Tonkin said he had a call from the Pike 911 Center at 3 a.m. Saturday, September 13th, to respond to the temporary command center set up at the Blooming Grove Baptist Church. From the initial moments after notification, he and his staff had tasks to do.
There was an ongoing criminal investigation to conduct while the manhunt proceeded. Some examples were a review of search warrant applications, review of the electronic surveillance control law, and ensuring the availability of documents for discovery in the criminal case. He also assisted with press conferences.
He urged the committee to recognize the role of the office of district attorney and consider introduction of corresponding changes to the law.
Bruce Henry, Director of Emergency Management for Monroe County, stressed the need to improve the working relationship between law enforcement and the county. Kept out of police briefings, he and his deputy director were hindered at gaining information needed on the county level, regarding coordination of public safety.
There were also issues with misguiding the media to where a press conference was to be held, and a lack of timely resource requests made to the county.
The last installment, Part Five, is planned for the Saturday, July 8th edition. This will look at the impact on the local economy.