The superintendent at the prison where two killers broke out has been placed on leave along with his security chief and 10 other staff members amid a widening internal investigation into how the inmates pulled off the daring escape, a state official said Tuesday. The 12-member group is in addition to the guard and the prison tailor shop instructor who were suspended earlier and face criminal charges they helped the escapees.
The latest action was announced two days after the last of the convicts, David Sweat, was wounded and captured following more than three weeks on the run. His accomplice, Richard Matt, was shot and killed last week.
The state official said Steven Racette, superintendent of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, was removed along with Stephen Brown, deputy superintendent in charge of security. The official was briefed on the matter but wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Corrections Department said only that three executives and nine other staff members were placed on leave as part of a review of the June 6 escape. It did not identify them. The department said it is bringing in new leadership. Sweat’s condition, meanwhile, was upgraded from serious to fair at the Albany hospital where he was taken after being shot twice by a state trooper on Sunday.
Matt and Sweat cut holes in their cells and a steam pipe and made their way under the walls of the maximum-security prison to a manhole outside in a breakout that embarrassed the Corrections Department, exposed a host of possible security lapses and set off a manhunt involving more than 1,000 law enforcement officers.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Sweat told investigators from his hospital bed that he started cutting through steel cellblock walls in January with only a hacksaw blade and used no power tools in the escape, contrary to what authorities have been saying all along.
Soon after the breakout, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the state’s inspector general to investigate factors that may have led to the escape.
The inspector general’s inquiry is separate from the criminal investigation. The inspector general can subpoena witnesses and question them under oath. Any evidence of criminal activity will be turned over to prosecutors.
Prosecutors have said tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell got close to the men, supplied them with hacksaw blades and other tools, and agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out at the last moment. She has pleaded not guilty.
Guard Gene Palmer was also arrested, telling investigators he gave the convicts such things as tools, art supplies and access to a catwalk electrical box in exchange for paintings by Matt. But he said he never knew of their escape plans.
Sweat, 35, had been serving life without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 49, was doing 25 years to life for the kidnapping and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.