Dannemora Update: Accusations And Investigations, But Still No Convicts

Jun 15, 2015

It's now the 10th day of the search for David Sweat and Richard Matt, the two convicted killers who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York after cutting their way through a steel wall and crawling through a steam pipe.

Meanwhile, there was a court appearance this morning for Joyce Mitchell, a tailor at the prison in Dannemora, who’s pleaded not guilty to helping the two men escape. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced another investigation into the escape.

Zach Hirsch, North Country Public Radio’s Plattsburgh correspondent, has been keeping a close eye on the manhunt, and has spent time in Cadyville, Dannemora and in West Plattsburgh.

On Joyce "Tillie" Mitchell’s appearance in court on Monday morning

"First, there was about an hour and a half delay, before things even got started, because Mitchell’s defense attorney, Keith Bruno, bowed out at the last minute. He said he had a conflict of interest in defending Mitchell – officials won’t say what that conflict is. So Steven Johnston is her new defense attorney. When Mitchell finally stood in front of the judge, she wore a black and white striped jail uniform, orange Crocs and what looked like a bulletproof vest. Today, the judge basically just decided to move the case to Clinton County Court."

Joyce "Tillie" Mitchell stands with her lawyer Steven Johnston in Plattsburgh City Court on Monday. The tailor shop instructor for the Clinton Correctional Facility has pleaded not guilty to charges that she supplied Richard Matt and David Sweat with tools for their escape.
Credit G.N. Miller / AP

On Mitchell's alleged role in the convicts' escape

"Here's what we know. State prison officials investigated her last year, because they believed she had an inappropriate relationship with either Richard Matt or David Sweat or both of them. That investigation was later dropped, and according to court papers filed late Friday, she allegedly began supplying Matt and Sweat with small tools, like blades and drill bits, some time in early May. She faces up to seven years behind bars; she’s pleaded not guilty. And on Sunday, local district attorney Andrew Wiley said it also looks like the inmates had access to tools left in the prison by maintenance contractors."

On the new investigation by the state Inspector General 

“There’s a growing frustration, as the search teams continue to chase down leads that just haven’t panned out – more than 800 law enforcement agents are taking part in the search near Dannemora right now. Some officials say the search costs roughly $1 million a day. And it gets political – this is tough territory, especially for Gov. Cuomo, who’s really taken the lead as the public face of this search. So, earlier today he announced a new probe into the prison break. The state inspector general will bring in experts in prison design, operations and security to try to figure out just what went wrong, and how to prevent it from happening again."

On the ongoing manhunt

"The short answer is there’s nothing new [to report]. Law enforcement agencies are still focusing their search in the thick woods in West Plattsburgh and Cadyville, New York. They’re also going door to door and asking people questions. A small section of rural highway that runs from Plattsburgh into Dannemora is still closed off. State officials say they’ve searched over 8,300 square acres so far."

Law enforcement officials return to their vehicles after searching the woods near Schuyler Falls, New York on Sunday. State officials say they've searched over 8,300 square acres in the manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat, but even Gov. Andrew Cuomo admits the men could have already fled the country.
Credit Mike Groll / AP

On whether there was a delay in law enforcement's monitoring of ferries

"I am hearing some of those anecdotes. I spoke with one person who crossed the ferry from Plattsburgh to Grand Isle on June 6 – that’s the day we learned about this escape – she said there was no police presence whatsoever. Vermont State Police Colonel Tom L’Esperance addressed that concern in Dannemora last week. Here’s what he had to say:

‘Immediately we deployed troopers up to Grand Isle and down to Charlotte, patrolling those ferry areas. We had a tactical team deployed up in the islands just in case there was a sighting that would come up in that area. We’ve been on this, working hand-in-hand with New York State Police. They’ve been sharing all the information, all the relevant information, that speaks towards Vermont.’"

On New York residents' manhunt fatigue

"People living right in the focus area of the search have said the intensified police presence is scary. They’re also frustrated, because law enforcement agencies have only given occasional and very brief progress reports. And in that vacuum of information, a lot of rumors and theories are spreading, which I think is making people even more nervous."

Find more of NCPR's Dannemora coverage here.