A second employee at a New York prison was arrested Wednesday following the escape of two convicted killers earlier this month.
Officer Gene Palmer, who had been placed on leave Friday as part of the investigation, was accused of aiding the June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from the Clinton County Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
Palmer was arraigned late Wednesday on charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. Bail was set at $25,000 in cash or a $50,000 bond. Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told Fox News that a scheduling conference to set Palmer’s next court appearance or schedule a felony hearing would take place at 4 p.m. local time Thursday.
An official close to the investigation told The Albany Times Union that authorities were looking into whether Palmer assisted the escapees by providing them with tools. He added that Matt and Sweat may have fooled Palmer by repeatedly tripping a breaker that fed electricity to their cells and telling Palmer they could fix the problem with simple hand tools.
Palmer, 57, has worked for the prison for more than 25 years, according to the paper.
Earlier this month, prison worker Joyce Mitchell was arrested and accused of giving the two inmates tools to cut through cells in order to escape. According to authorities, she planned to be the convicts’ getaway driver but backed out. Mitchell pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss. Authorities say they cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.
Wylie has said Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed the meat in a refrigerator in the tailor shop where she worked and Palmer took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals. The district attorney said the guard didn’t know the tools were inside the meat.
Police said they remain almost 100 percent certain that Sweat and Matt spent time recently at a hunting camp about 20 miles west of Clinton County Correctional Facility near Owls Head. A hunter said he saw a figure bolting from the cabin on Saturday morning. But after days of intense searching with dogs and helicopters, police still had no substantiated sightings of the two escapees.
The 75 square miles searchers focused on is on the northern edge of the sprawling Adirondack Park and includes woods so thick that visibility is only a few feet in some sections, authorities said. The woods also are dotted with hundreds of seasonal and hunting camps.
State Police Maj. Charles Guess told reporters Wednesday that authorities don’t have confirmed evidence that a shotgun was stolen from the hunting cabin near Owls Head, but they’ve always assumed the escapees were armed. Weapons and ammunition are typically stored in camps, but not everyone keeps an inventory of their firearms, he said.
“Just about every cabin or outbuilding in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons, and we have since day one operated under the belief that these men are armed,” Guess said. “They are extremely dangerous, they’re cunning. Why wouldn’t they try to arm themselves immediately upon escape?”
Guess said it was possible the pair left the area, but promised that the more than 1,000 officers involved would keep up the relentless search until the killers are captured.
“We don’t want them to have a restful, peaceful night putting their head on any pillow,” he said.