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Sep 24, 2014 2:51 PM

Police ambush suspect manhunt upends daily life

The Associated Press

CANADENSIS, Pa. (AP) Tara Knichel went out to pick up a pizza and didn't get home until 24 hours later. Lukasz Drozdzewski lost a day's pay because he couldn't leave his home to go to work.

In their small northeastern Pennsylvania town, the massive police manhunt for suspected cop killer Eric Frein has resulted in unannounced and indefinite roadblocks. A "shelter in place" directive prevented residents from leaving their houses for more than 24 hours at one point, and those who weren't already home could not return.

Residents say they support police in the search for Frein, who is charged with killing one state trooper and wounding a second during a Sept. 12 ambush outside police barracks in Blooming Grove.

But patience is wearing thin as the manhunt around Canadensis in the Pocono Mountains extends into a second week.

"Families are getting separated," said Adam Christmann, who has been kept from his home at least twice in the past few days.

Police issued a statement Tuesday night saying they have been "diligent in respecting the rights of the public while working hard to keep both residents and law enforcement personnel safe."

Authorities believe Frein, a 31-year-old Canadensis resident and self-taught survivalist, has been hiding in the dense woods surrounding his neighborhood. Roadblocks have popped up sporadically and without warning as law enforcement officials have chased leads. Frein is considered armed and dangerous.

High school student Kendall Lewczak left home at 7 a.m. Friday to go to work with her mom, since classes had been canceled because of the manhunt. They came back in the late afternoon to find access to their street blocked off.

"We sort of drove around this area trying to figure out what we were going to do," Lewczak said. "And then we spent the night over on the bridge sleeping in the car waiting, and hoping, that we could get home."

Troopers eventually allowed the Lewczaks and their neighbors to return Saturday night. And authorities insist residents have been able to get escorts to their homes in emergencies, such as to retrieve medication.

"At no time did we completely restrict access to homes in the area," the police statement said.

Many residents would beg to differ, saying elderly relatives have been left unattended and pets unfed. Knichel left her home around 5:45 p.m. Sunday to pick up a pizza for her kids. Monday evening, she was still waiting to get back in. Drozdzewski missed a Friday shift at his job as a fabricator in Allentown.

Ralph Megliola, chairman of the Barrett Township Board of Supervisors, said most residents he's spoken with believe police are "doing the best job they can" under difficult circumstances.

"Most of them understand," he said. "They'd rather not be in their houses if there's a murderer in their backyard."

Meanwhile, an attorney from Bechtelsville is soliciting residents who feel their rights were violated during the manhunt, either because they couldn't get to their homes or their vehicles were searched without a warrant. "Just because one of their brethren was murdered does not give them a right to violate YOUR Rights," Joshua Prince wrote on his firm's website.

A state police spokesman, Tom Kelly, said authorities have always asked motorists for consent before searching.

"Also we are looking for a human, not going through small areas such as glove compartments or consoles," he said.

Prince's provocative post, coming less than two weeks after Dickson's death, drew hundreds of comments, split between those calling him a shameless opportunist and people critical of police tactics.

Prince told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he's taken calls from aggrieved residents, including one man who said he was kept away from his house for days and returned home Tuesday night to find his dogs had eliminated all over the property.

"There is no general blanket allowance for setting the Constitution aside because the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI are doing an investigation or manhunt," he said.

Police have emergency powers to limit access to certain areas, said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. But when police use the powers too broadly for too long a period over too large an area then residents' rights are being violated, she said.

"I would hope somebody in law enforcement is working on coming up with a more tailored approach to this," Roper said.


Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.


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