If You Are a Wanted Fugitive, You Probably Shouldn’t Get Involved in Politics

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Nov. 8 2013 11:59 AM

If You Are a Wanted Fugitive, You Probably Shouldn’t Get Involved in Politics

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Name: Ernie Daniels

Alleged crimes: Aggravated assault, failure to appear.

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Fatal mistake: Letting his civic spirit overtake his better judgment.

The circumstances: Last November, a Pittsburgh man named Ernie Daniels was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after allegedly attacking his brother with a baseball bat. Daniels made bail, promising to return to court when his trial came around. But when that day came in June, Daniels was gone, like Keyser Soze (or his less-intimidating western Pennsylvanian equivalent), and this disappearing act landed him on the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office’s “Top 20 Most Wanted Fugitives” list.

If Ernie Daniels’ story had ended there, he’d be up for the Elusive Criminal of the Week award. But it didn’t. On Tuesday evening, Mayor-elect Bill Peduto hosted a victory party at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum, featuring free food, free beer, and lots and lots of concerned citizens. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, one of those citizens noticed that one of the Peduto supporters lounging around the beverage table looked a lot like noted bail jumper Ernie Daniels.

I can only imagine what was going through Daniels’ mind when he learned about the victory party. “I should go to this thing! It’ll have free food and free beer, and I might get to meet Bill Peduto! But it’ll probably also be filled with people who might recognize me. But it’ll have free beer! And Bill Peduto!” Daniels eventually made his choice, and, unfortunately for him, it was a bad one. A cop went up to him, confirmed his identity, and escorted him off the premises, presumably to chants of “Four more years! Four more years! In prison, that is!”

How he could have been a lot smarter: I’m normally a big supporter of trying to get involved in the political process. But it is unwise to manifest your civic spirit when you’re on the run from the law. (Getting involved after you've served your time is a different matter altogether.) Daniels should have just stayed home.

How he could have been a little smarter: If he was bound and determined to attend the victory party, he could have at least worn some sort of clever disguise.

How he could have been a little dumber: He could have disguised himself as fellow Top 20 list-member James Watts, who is wanted on charges of criminal homicide.

How he could have been a lot dumber: “Hello, citizens of Pittsburgh. I am wanted fugitive Ernie Daniels, and I am running for mayor.”

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): Relatively low. This was largely a case of bad luck, and, anyway, Daniels did avoid capture for several months, so it’s hard to say that he’s really dumb. That said: Daniels might have thought that it’d be easy for him to blend into the crowd at the Peduto party. But he should’ve known that the crowd into which he was blending was likely to be filled with cops and civic do-gooders. 4 out of 10 for Daniels.

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Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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