New York prison break: 12 employees placed on leave after escape

David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt

A host of correctional officers and prison executives — including the superintendent — have been placed on leave from Clinton Correctional facility following the escape of two convicted murderers, authorities said Tuesday. The New York State Department of Corrections said in a statement that three members of the upstate prison’s executive team and nine security staff are on “administrative leave” as part of the ongoing review into the jailbreak. It did not offer further details. Steven Racette, the prison superintendent, along with his deputy Stephen Browne, who oversees security, were two of the three executives suspended, a senior New York official with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat used power tools to escape from the maximum-security prison in Dannemora on June 6. The duo were on the lam for three weeks: Matt was shot and killed on Friday while Sweat was shot and wounded two days later. He is in custody at the Albany Medical Center, which on Tuesday upgraded his condition to “fair” from “serious.”

Sweat has told investigators from his hospital bed that the only prison worker involved in the breakout was seamstress Joyce Mitchell, a prosecutor said Monday. Mitchell has been charged with providing escape tools to the fugitives, and said in a statement through her lawyer Tuesday she was “happy” the manhunt had ended. “That is what she has been praying for and her prayers were answered,” Mitchell’s attorney Stephen Johnston said.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie offered the detail on Sweat’s statements after a second prison employee arrested in connection with the escape, corrections officer Gene Palmer, made a court appearance on Monday. Palmer is said to have been the courier Mitchell used to deliver frozen ground meat — hiding hacksaw blades — to Sweat and fellow lifer Matt. The guard has denied any advance knowledge of the escape plot, and, according to Wylie, Sweat has not told investigators anything different. Palmer, 57, is charged with providing other tools to the duo in exchange for some of Matt’s artwork, according to court papers.

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