Accused police-killer John D. Williams received a black eye during his arrest Saturday afternoon, police said, amid controversy over a photo authorities took that shows the suspect pinned on the ground and a recent jail booking image more clearly showing the facial injury.

The controversial capture photo, taken moments after a team of seven officers apprehended Williams Saturday in the woods of Fairfield, shows a shirtless Williams lying stomach-down and handcuffed on the ground with a hand grabbing his hair and lifting his head up for the camera.

The 29-year-old Madison man is charged with murder in the death of Cpl. Eugene Cole, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, who police say Williams shot and killed, then stole Cole’s cruiser, ditched it on a road in Norridgewock and went on the run before he was caught four days later.

After the photo was leaked Saturday on social media through an unidentified source and police confirmed they had taken the photo, authorities addressed it, saying the treatment was necessary to confirm Williams’ identity, as he resisted having his picture taken. Maine State Police later posted the photo on their official Twitter and Instagram pages, to mixed reaction. The posts received more than 500 likes and 60 comments on Twitter and 1,390 likes and more than 100 comments on Instagram.


But some people have raised concern about the widely circulating picture, saying police apparently exercised undue force on Williams and “convicted” him before he made an appearance in court. The Williams case comes amid heightened tension nationwide over police-involved shootings, police accountability in such cases and instances of officers being targeted and killed.

A police affidavit filed Monday in support of the murder charge against Williams does not spell out explicitly a possible motive for the killing, instead suggesting through narrative details that it was a moment of happenstance in which Cole, who was on patrol in Norridgewock, came across Williams during the early morning hours.

This photo taken by Maine State Police on Saturday shows the moment when law enforcement apprehended John D. Williams, sought in the slaying of Cpl. Eugene Cole, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. Maine State Police did not officially release the photo — it was first leaked on social media — but they later confirmed that they took the photo and posted it on the agency’s official Twitter and Instagram pages. Photo courtesy of Maine State Police

Critics of the Williams capture photo have pointed to a letter from Cole’s wife that police read at a news conference an hour before Williams was caught, urging Williams to turn himself in and assuring him he would be treated with dignity and respect — as her husband would have treated him. Cole, 61, was a 13-year veteran of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and also has a son, David, who is a deputy there.

But a criminal justice expert who reviewed the arrest photo said in an interview that the “dignity and respect” benchmark isn’t necessarily realistic when a suspect is accused of killing a police officer.

The expert, Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and co-director of the NYPD Police Studies Program, viewed the photo and said it seemed to reflect the emotions of the officers involved.

“Killing a police officer in the line of duty is a very emotional and stressful event for all brothers and sisters in blue,” she said. “Treating his killer with ‘dignity and respect’ is not a realistic expectation.”

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Williams got the black eye as he was being arrested, but he didn’t have specifics on how the injury occurred. It can be seen more clearly in his booking photo taken at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta.

“There was some limited resistance and he sustained the injury as he was being arrested, but I don’t have specifics,” McCausland said when asked whether an officer gave Williams a black eye. He said Williams did not suffer any other injuries.

McCausland would not provide further details about how Williams resisted arrest, including whether he was armed, saying those details “will come out as his case winds its way through the court system.”

A booking photo taken Saturday of John D. Williams at the Kennebec County jail in Augusta shows him with a black eye that police say he suffered while giving “limited resistance” to being placed under arrest in connection with the shooting death of Cpl. Eugene Cole. Photo courtesy of Kennebec County Correctional Facility

“The circumstances under which he received (the black eye) are he sustained an injury as he was being arrested and offering limited resistance,” he said.

Patrick Nickerson, Williams’ court-appointed attorney, declined to comment on the photo or its release, but said he’s still trying to determine whether his client was mistreated.

“He very clearly had a black eye in the booking photo, and there is no black eye visible in the photo released after his capture,” Nickerson said. “I don’t know if there was a separate injury or not, but we hope to get an explanation.”

A close viewing of the capture photo, however, does reveal some apparent discoloration on the right side of Williams’ face.

Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy James Ross said Tuesday that Williams was at no point at the Somerset County Jail or in the custody of Somerset County personnel.

“We are aware of the booking photo showing Mr. Williams black eye,” Ross said in an email. “If you look at the photo taken seconds after his capture you will notice the swelling and bruising already there. If you know anything about these type injuries you would know that they take time to swell and discolor.”

Asked whether he thought his client will get fair treatment, Nickerson said that was a concern of his. On Monday, the case was ordered moved to Cumberland County, with Nickerson saying his client would be more likely to get a fair trial there, given all the news media coverage of Cole’s murder in central Maine — despite the fact that the story was featured prominently in Maine’s major daily newspapers and TV stations statewide.

“That was certainly part of the reason we agreed to transfer the case to Portland,” Nickerson said. “Although practically speaking, in today’s digital age, I’m not sure there is a perfect venue to try this case.”

The capture photo was taken by a team of seven officers from the Maine State Police, the Maine Warden Service, the Fairfield Police Department and the FBI’s Boston office after Williams was found in the vicinity of 807 Norridgewock Road in Fairfield, ending a four-day manhunt.

McCausland said the photo was necessary to send to the command center, which police had set up at the Norridgewock Fire Department, to confirm with officers there the identity of the apprehended suspect. The FBI also had circulated widely images of several unique tattoos Williams had on his arms and body, many of which were visible when the shirtless Williams was found in the woods.

Police said they did not intend to release the capture photo to the public, but it was leaked on social media within an hour after it was taken, McCausland said, and “we’re not sure by whom.”

In addition to the state police posting the photo on their social media pages, the image also generated hundreds of comments as the subject of a letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald. The letter, written by South Portland resident Irving Williams, who indicated that he was not related to John D. Williams, said the photo was not living up to the words of Cole’s widow, Sheryl Cole, who said Williams would be treated with “dignity and respect” if he surrendered.

“The excuse — that the suspect was resisting having his photograph taken to confirm his identity — is rather flimsy, as there are many other photographs of him being led away showing his identifying tattoos, full face and torso,” Williams wrote. “The police photo simply resembles all too much the images of hunters posing with their dead prey, lifeless heads pulled back to show the face.”

Christine Koch, a Press Herald subscriber, thought the photo was sensational but didn’t fault police for taking it or releasing it.

“When I was a kid, we got The New York Times and the New York Post delivered to our house. That photo looked more like the Post,” she said, referring to the tabloid best known for shocking photos and headlines. “It was clearly for effect. I gasped when I saw it.”

Haberfeld, the John Jay College professor, said each police agency has standard operating procedures, but they are guidelines and are not set in stone. And while Haberfeld said she believes in professional policing and respectful conduct, “I am not sure we can demand the display of respect and dignity towards a cop’s killer.”

“Many of the themes of police subculture emphasize the importance of solidarity as the main aspect of police work,” Haberfeld said. “Solidarity is not necessarily a synonym of misconduct in the case of arresting the suspect responsible for the murder of a police officer, but I can definitely see how their emotions took over the protocol.”

McCausland said he had “no reaction” to criticisms of the photo or questions about Williams’ treatment.

Several people on social media used the image as an opportunity to thank police for their work apprehending Williams and said law enforcement handled the situation correctly.

“I can assure you that Mr. Williams was treated professionally at all times,” said Ross, the Somerset County chief deputy. “You should also remember that he spent 4 days on the run, evading capture by the police, in some very slippery, at times steep and inhospitable terrain.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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