In general, we expect the police to uphold the rights of citizens. We’ve all seen “Law and Order” or some similar crime drama and know of the judicial system’s basic premise of “innocent until proven guilty.” It shouldn’t matter who or under what circumstance. Every citizen should be accorded that basic privilege.
When law enforcement goes awry, that breach of public trust strikes to the very core of our sense of right and wrong. The most recent case in point is the ongoing story of former state police officer Eric Howley, who has resigned his post and is accused of assault against two local young men in an alleged canoe theft at Lake Raponda in Wilmington. We have reported on this in a number of recent editions, including last week’s. Howley has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
It would seem that in Howley’s case he let his emotions trump his training. It appears he took the law into his own hands, instead of letting the law work the way it should. It also appears he will pay a heavy toll for that moment. His career is shot, and he faces a civil suit from the men he is accused of assaulting.
Regardless of what’s been written in the media, including this paper, Howley deserves that presumption of innocence and his day in court. Like it or not, it’s how the system should work. The presumption of innocence should be everyone’s right, even when the incident stirs up deep-seated emotions. There are numerous examples throughout our society of trial by public opinion. But judicial process is based on well-reasoned laws, not emotion and opinion, and we are all better served by remembering that.
Back to the Lake Raponda incident: One cop may not have done the right thing, but others involved did. Wilmington police sergeant Matt Murano and state trooper Genevra Cushman could have looked the other way and allowed the incident to be swept under the rug. But instead, they tried to stop Howley, and then filed reports that detailed the accounts of the incident. Those reports did not shed a favorable light on Howley’s actions.
Those who might want to extract a pound of flesh need to quell their emotions. Those who would look at Howley’s actions and lump all police officers together as rogue vigilantes need to look at what the other officers did that day. They took what could have been an explosive situation and diffused it as much as possible.
Police officers are people, too. Some do the right thing, some don’t. Some do the right thing some of the time, other times they don’t. What we hope is that level heads will prevail and that justice will be served for all in this case.