Inspector General's Report on Dannemora Prison Break: Lack of Searches Pervasive at Clinton Jail

Statement on Inspector General's Report

Statement from DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey:

“Since last June, DOCCS has instituted a number of reforms to strengthen operations at Clinton Correctional Facility, including installing new cameras and security gates, retraining staff, disciplining responsible employees, appointing a new superintendent and replacing other senior administrative personnel. We are reviewing the Inspector General’s findings and will work with her office to implement her recommendations to improve operations at Clinton and throughout the entire system, and help ensure this incident is never repeated.”

Statement from NYSCOPBA, the correction officers union:

“The Clinton escape was a disturbing incident that brings to light the broader inadequacies that affect the entire correctional system. Lessons can be learned from this system wide failure that shined a bright light on the need for a sustained investment in training, technology, and tools to keep up with the record high levels of violence in our prisons. We look forward to working with the Governor and state officials to better address the safety and security of these facilities, and of the inmates and Correction Officers who live and work there.”

The New York State Inspector General's office has released its investigation into last year's Clinton Correctional Facility prison escape. The report comes one year to the date since Richard Matt and David Sweat broke out of the prison, leading law enforcement on a three-week search.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tasked Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott with conducting a comprehensive review of the systemic failures inside the prison system that led to Matt and Sweat's escape. The report is 150 pages long and details what Scott calls "chronic complacency, complicit employees and myriad failures."

"The investigation found that longstanding, systemic failures in management and oversight by DOCCS enabled two convicted murderers to meticulously orchestrate their escape from a maximum security facility," the introduction to the report read. "In addition, security and management failures at Clinton created and perpetuated a culture of complacency and revealed a substantial deviation from acceptable correctional practices."

The report details the early efforts by Matt and Sweat to recruit prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell in planning the escape, and the sexual relationship she developed with Matt while she worked at the prison.

Correction Officer Gene Palmer, meanwhile, was wooed with paintings and drawings by Matt.

Nevertheless, the report concludes the escape likely would not have been possible without the “brazen” assistance of Mitchell, who had considered having her husband killed by the two men. She pleaded guilty last year of aiding the men in the escape, though she failed to execute the final portion of the plan: Acting as a get away driver for the escapees.

The report points to a number of failed searches -- of cells, employee personal belongings, night checks, tunnels and other instances -- as the reasons why Sweat and Matt were able to break out of prison.

Mitchell, who later plead guilty to charges, smuggled in hacksaw blades Sweat then used to cut through steam pipes, according to the report, and other tools. While prison policy states employee belongings should be checked at the gate, the IG report stated that rarely happened.

Routine searches of cells were anything but routine. The report found cells were supposed to be searched based on a computer-generated schedule, but different cells than the ones the computer spit out would be the ones investigated by corrections officers. 

David Sweat's cell was selected by the computer on May 22, 2015, two weeks before the escape; however, according to the report, a sergeant chose another cell despite it being searched the day before. The IG report states Sweat didn't have his cell searched since at least the end of 2013.

The two convicted killers crawled out of the backs of their cells through holes they cut -- holes that may have been seen, the IG report found, if the prison conducted regular rear searches of the cells from a catwalk that ran inside the belly of the jail. 

"At least nine correction officers who conducted the inspections and signed the acknowledgments testified that they did not examine the rear of the cell from the catwalk," the state's investigation read.

Sweat targeted the correction officer on duty on the night of Friday, June 6, 2015, as the one he wanted to be held responsible, the report found. 

Sweat told investigators that Correction Officer Ronald Blair would "unnecessarily" hit inmates' feet with a flashlight during the 11 p.m. count. The escaped killer, now spending 23 hours a day inside his cell at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, said Blair failed to conduct required checks overnight. 

The Inspector General's report points to Sweat telling the truth. Sweat spent nearly three months behind the walls of his cell, laying ground work for the June escape. His "nightly absences" coincided with what should have been more than 400 counts, according to the report.

"These facts are compelling evidence that officers regularly failed to conduct required counts," the report stated. "If only one of the counts was done properly, the escape plan would have been instantly stopped."

But, Blair told investigators he searched the cells and all inmates were present at 12 a.m., 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. When the 5:30 a.m. standing count of inmates came around, Blair said he noticed Matt and Sweat weren't up.

"I think I reached in, grabbed [Sweat's] bed, shook it, no movement. I grabbed the sheet and I almost threw up, then saw the dummy," Blair told investigators. I stopped at [Matt's] cell, I did the same thing, saw the dummy, and then ... off on a dead run. After that, [I was] falling down the stairs.”

When the two men were found missing, officials decided not to sound a siren meant to alert the village of Dannemora of an escape. Superintendent Steven Racette testified that, because since decades had gone by without an escape, no one would know what it meant.

The investigation found irregularities with how night checks happened. Blair and the second officer working the night shift, Thomas Renadette, were suspended following the escape.

Following the escape, the state Department of Corrections suspended Racette, First Deputy Superintendent Donald Quinn, Deputy Superintendent for Security Stephen Brown and numerous officers. Racette later retired and Brown later resigned. Additionally, Assistant Commissioner Patricia LeConey retired during the Inspector General’s investigation.

The report gave an unidentified inmate's assessment of why the escape happened in the first place: "There’s nothing wrong with the system. It’s just that people got to follow the rules that are in place. But if you can have people who are supposed to be implementing the rules and policies picking and choosing who they want to implement the rules and policies on, therein lies the imbalance. You know, that’s what the problem was."

Stay with Time Warner Cable News throughout the day for complete analysis of the report.

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