NEW YORK — One of the inmates ended up dead and the second was shot and captured by an alert state trooper, but it looks like heads are rolling at the Clinton Correctional Facility, now that the 23-day hunt for two escaped prisoners has ended.
The New York State Department of Corrections is replacing 12 prison employees, including the prison’s superintendent Steven Racette and deputy superintendent Stephen Brown. Racette was seen in a photo (embedded below) with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 6, when the daring prison break was discovered.
The DOC sent a statement to PIX11 Investigates Tuesday announcing three members of Clinton’s executive team had been placed on administrative leave along with nine security staff employees “as part of the ongoing review associated with the June 6, 2015 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility.”
The statement indicated a new leadership team will transition in next week, under the supervision of Assistant Commissioner for Correctional Facilities James O’Gorman.
Cuomo recently announced that he’d asked New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott to look at the circumstances that led to the sensational escape by Richard Matt and David Sweat from maximum security in the hours between late June 5 and early June 6.
The two convicted killers gained access to hacksaws and other tools, which allowed them to cut through steel vents at the back of their adjacent cells, slither six stories down a catwalk, break through a two foot brick wall, cut open steam pipes and crawl through sewers to get to a manhole which led them to a street outside the prison’s mammoth walls.
Their plan to drive to Mexico immediately went awry, when the prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell failed to show up with her Jeep. Mitchell went to the hospital with panic attacks instead.
She later told state police she’d had sexual relationships with both inmates—at different times—in the tailor shop. She told her husband Lyle Mitchell—another prison employee—that the prisoners planned to kill him after they escaped.
Mitchell admitted providing hacksaw blades and drill bits for the convicted killers’ plot, putting some of the tools inside frozen hamburger meat.
Senior Corrections Officer Gene Palmer has already been arrested and charged with official misconduct and promoting prison contraband for allegedly giving the inmates privileges that allowed them to get familiar with the catwalk. Palmer allegedly allowed Sweat to get access to the catwalk behind his cell, so Sweat could fix electrical breakers. He allegedly gave Sweat tools to accomplish the task.
And Palmer may have unwittingly transported the tools used in the escape from Joyce Mitchell in the prison tailor shop. Palmer reportedly took the hamburger meat to Matt and Sweat in their “honor block” cells—bypassing the prison metal detector.
On Monday, the day after David Sweat was shot a mile and a half from the Canadian border, CNN reported the FBI had launched a larger criminal investigation at Clinton Correctional Facility. Federal agents are looking at reports of wider-ranging corruption at the prison, including drug trafficking between prison workers and inmates.
The manhunt for Matt and Sweat was enormously costly to New York State, reportedly costing $1 million a day. Near the end of the search for the two men, some 1,300 law enforcement personnel were combing through woods in the North Country.
The state police got their first big break in the case on June 20, when a hunter reported seeing someone fleeing a cabin in the woods of Owl’s Head, N.Y. Inside the cabin, investigators found DNA evidence showing Sweat and Matt had been there. Among the items seized were prison-issued boxer shorts and bloody socks.
Richard Matt—in prison for killing and dismembering his former boss in 1997—marked his 49th birthday on Thursday, June 25. He was killed the next day when a border patrol tactical team found him in Malone, N.Y. Matt didn’t heed orders to put his hands up, officials said, and was shot three times in the head.
Police found a 20-gauge shotgun at his side, apparently taken from a ransacked cabin in the woods.
Two days later, Sweat was captured in Constable, N.Y. He had apparently parted ways with the older Matt after they’d spent more than two weeks on the run together. Sweat turned 35 on June 14, just over a week after the escape.
State Police Sergeant, Jay Cook, noticed Sweat jogging on a country road, less than 2 miles from the Canadian border. He commanded Sweat to stop, but the prisoner started running toward a line of trees.
Cook — who graduated as the “best shot” in his state police academy class in 1994 — shot Sweat twice in the torso.
Sweat’s condition had been upgraded to fair Tuesday afternoon, according to Albany Medical Center, where he is being treated in a locked, “secure” ward.
Sweat faces a potential seven years in solitary confinement for the escape. He was doing life in prison without parole for killing sheriff’s deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002.
Tarsia encountered Sweat and an accomplice in a Broome County park, after they’d robbed a Pennsylvania gun store. The duo shot Tarsia 22 times and ran him over.
Despite the heinous nature of the crime, Sweat’s prison behavior was considered good enough to warrant membership in Clinton Correctional’s honor block.
Now, it seems, the officials who allowed this set-up are paying with their jobs.