John Williams’ booking photo, at left, and a photo widely circulated on social media showing him shortly after his arrest.

Authorities addressed questions Tuesday surrounding the arrest of the man accused of killing a Somerset County sheriff’s corporal, saying that John D. Williams suffered a black eye while offering “limited resistance” during his apprehension Saturday and that a photo in which an officer is pulling Williams’ head up by the hair was taken to confirm his identity.

The 29-year-old Madison man is charged with murder in the death of Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole. Police say Williams shot and killed Cole on April 25, then stole Cole’s police vehicle, ditched it on a road in Norridgewock and went on the run before he was caught four days later.

The photo taken moments after a team of seven officers arrested Williams in the woods of Fairfield on Saturday shows him shirtless and lying stomach-down on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind him. The photo shows a hand grasping his hair and lifting his head up to face the camera.

Police 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, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, and “we’re not sure by whom.”

On Saturday, after the photo appeared on social media and police confirmed they had taken it, authorities said Williams’ treatment was necessary because he resisted having his picture taken and police needed to confirm his identity.

Maine State Police later posted the photo on their official Twitter and Instagram pages, receiving more than 500 likes and 60 comments on Twitter, and 1,390 likes and more than 100 comments on Instagram.


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 is not related to John D. Williams, said the photo was not living up to the words of Cole’s wife, 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.”


The FBI had widely circulated images of several tattoos that Williams had on his arms and body, many of which were visible when the shirtless Williams was found in the woods.

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.”


Cole’s wife, in a letter read by police during a news conference an hour before Williams was caught, urged Williams to turn himself in and assured him he would be treated with dignity and respect – as her husband would have treated him.

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

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and co-director of the NYPD Police Studies Program, said the photo 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.”


Cole’s killing comes amid heightened tension nationwide over police-involved shootings, police accountability in such cases, and instances of officers being targeted and killed. Cole, 61, was a 13-year veteran of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, and his son David is a deputy there.


A police affidavit filed Monday in support of the murder charge against Williams does not spell out a possible motive for the killing, instead suggesting through narrative details that it was a chance encounter in which Cole, who was on patrol in Norridgewock, came across Williams during the early morning hours on April 25.

McCausland said Williams got the black eye seen in a booking photo as he was being arrested.

“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 how Williams got the black eye. He said Williams did not suffer any other injuries.

McCausland would not describe 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.”

Patrick Nickerson, Williams’ court-appointed attorney, declined to comment on the photo or its release, and 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.”


However, a close viewing of the capture photo does reveal some discoloration on the left side of Williams’ face.

“We are aware of the booking photo showing Mr. Williams’ black eye,” Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy James 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.”


Nickerson, asked whether he thought his client will get fair treatment, said that was a concern. 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 media coverage of Cole’s murder in central Maine – even though the story has been prominently featured in Maine’s statewide media.

“Practically speaking, in today’s digital age, I’m not sure there is a perfect venue to try this case,” Nickerson said.

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 suspect.


Haberfeld, the John Jay College professor, said each police agency has standard operating procedures, but they are guidelines and are not set in stone.

“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.”

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 four days on the run, evading capture by the police, in some very slippery, at times steep and inhospitable terrain.”

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:


Twitter: rachel_ohm

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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