NY prison guard helped escapees in exchange for snitching, art: documents

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jun 25, 2015 10:05 AM

By Pete DeMola

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Reuters) - A guard charged in the upstate New York escape of two inmates said he allowed them into the prison's internal catwalks, which they later used to flee, in return for snitching on other inmates, according to court documents.

Corrections officer Gene Palmer said he also let inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt change electrical wiring in order to cook in their cells at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

Palmer's sworn deposition was posted in a New York Times story.

He is accused of bringing hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit hidden inside frozen hamburger to the convicted killers.

Palmer, who is free on bail, did not attend a court appearance on Thursday, where his attorney Andrew Brockway recused himself, saying Palmer need a larger firm with more resources.

Officials said Albany attorney William Dreyer will now represent Palmer.

Matt, 49, and Sweat, 35, were discovered missing on June 6.

Officials said they used tools to break through their steel cell walls, climb through catwalks into a steam pipe and emerge from an outside manhole.

In the deposition, Palmer said he provided Matt, who painted portraits, with paints and brushes and helped hide them in the catwalk.

Palmer said he did "not intentionally" assist with the escape but bartered with Matt for "elaborate paintings and information on the illegal acts that inmates were committing."

At the Plattsburgh courthouse, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie was asked by reporters if the inmates had tried to dupe Palmer.

Wylie said he would use the word "mislead" instead.

Palmer, 57, who was suspended with pay, faces another court hearing on Monday.

The manhunt, now nearing three weeks, is focused on the forests of the Adirondack Mountains. The men are assumed to have weapons stolen from a cabin about 20 miles west of the prison, state police said.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, a prison worker charged with aiding the escape, allegedly hid the tools in the meat, Wylie said.

Palmer, who is accused of trying to burn paintings he received, is charged with tampering with evidence, introducing contraband into prison and misdemeanor misconduct for accepting the paintings.

More than a decade ago Palmer talked about life as a guard in a radio interview.

"With the money they pay you'll go bald, you'll have high blood pressure, you'll become an alcoholic, you'll divorce and then you'll kill yourself," he said, calling Dannemora a "negative" environment.

(Additional reporting by Dan Burns in New York; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Ellen Wulfhorst, Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert)