On Saturday afternoon, the Maine State Police and Somerset County Sheriff's Department released this photo on Twitter and Facebook of accused cop killer John Williams, the subject of a days-long nationwide manhunt that was assisted by the FBI, following the murder of a Somerset County sheriff's deputy in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Maine State Police
Maine State Police

The reaction to the photo was swift, and commentary across social media and the internet was polarized. Some cheered the fugitive's capture, and also applauded the appearance that he was being "roughed up" by his arresting officers. The official police post even went so far as to point out that Williams was arrested with Corporal Eugene Cole's handcuffs. Others made a point to question why such a photo was taken at all, and why anyone, even a dangerous fugitive, would be treated that way by police.

In fact, there was an official purpose for this photograph, which included a reasonable explanation as to why an officer was holding Williams' head by his hair, and why another officer was pressing on his neck.

According to police, the agents and officers in the field needed to send photo verification to the command location, to show their superior officers photographic proof of the arrest, and to receive verification that they had, in fact, arrested the correct person. Williams had reportedly resisted arrest, and wasn't cooperating with officers when they tried to take his photograph. The arresting officers then held his head up for the camera so they could get the photo.

That's a reasonable explanation as to why the photograph needed to be taken, and it serves as a good reminder that those of us who do not work in law enforcement shouldn't immediately jump to conclusions about what we see in the media or online. There's almost always more to the story.

The wisdom of posting that photo on the internet, however, is an entirely different question.

John Williams is being held in a secure cell at the Maine State Prison in Warren, and is widely expected to face murder charges in the death of Corporal Eugene Cole, the first police officer in Maine murdered with a gun in almost 30 years.

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