Corrections Officer Arrested And Arraigned In Dannemora Prison Escape Investigation
A prison guard from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional facility who police say delivered frozen meat with tools hidden inside to two inmates before they escaped was arrested and arraigned last night. He will be back in court this afternoon on charges of promoting prison contraband and other offenses.
Thirty-year corrections veteran Gene Palmer was arrested Wednesday night and charged with promoting Prison Contraband, a Class D felony, two counts of tampering with physical evidence, class E felonies, and one count of Official Misconduct, a class A misdemeanor. He was arraigned in Plattsburgh Town Court and was released after posting $25,000 bail. Palmer’s lawyer Andrew Brockway , who was unavailable Thursday morning, told CNN’ s Anderson Cooper after the arraignment that his client will enter a not guilty plea. “I believe it’s fair to say that the District Attorney and myself were both surprised. The State Police are the ones that filed the charges. I got a text from the District Attorney. We’re both surprised. It’s happened very quickly. Mr. Palmer has been completely cooperative with the investigation. The District Attorney has said publically that he does not believe that my client knew that the escape was being planned. My client understands that this is public emergency. He wants to help with any information that he has. He understands that he made a mistake with the whole meat fiasco. He will continue to cooperate. He’s a man of integrity who made some mistakes.”
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie was also unavailable Thursday morning, but backed up Brockway’s comments in an interview with CBS News reporter Anna Werner describing how prison tailor Joyce Mitchell — also facing charges — smuggled items to the now-fugitives. “She put the hacksaw blades, put the other screwdriver bits, in the hamburger. Froze it and then brought into the facility. Correction officer Gene Palmer came, collected it and then brought it to Matt.” CBS correspondent Anna Werner asks: “And you believe he did so unwittingly?”
Wylie responds: “Yes without knowing that the tools were inside the meat.”
Palmer is scheduled to make a court appearance at 4 p.m.
Thursday marks the 20th day of the search for escaped prisoners inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt.
Updating search efforts midday Wednesday, Troop B Commander Major Charles Guess said law enforcement is focusing in a region near Dannemora in the town of Belmont, a sprawling area west of the prison and south of Malone. “Our current search area is approximately 75 square miles within Franklin County. Although no evidence exists that the escapees are in the town of Malone or the village of Malone, a search will begin in that area in an attempt to insure the safety of area residents. More than 1,000 federal, state and law enforcement members are involved in the search area.”
DNA evidence shows that Matt and Sweat had taken refuge in a remote hunting cabin on Black Cat Mountain near Mountain View and Owls Head sometime Saturday. Guess noted that weapons and ammunition are typically stored in many of the hundreds of hunting camps in the area. While there’s no way to tell if the fugitives are armed, he concludes that it’s not unreasonable to assume that the pair could have obtained firearms. “I do not have confirmatory evidence that a particular shotgun is missing. I would point out to you that just about every cabin or out-building in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons. We have since day one operated under the belief that these men are armed. They’re extremely dangerous. They’re cunning. Why wouldn’t they try to arm themselves immediately upon escape?”
The charges Palmer faces carry sentences of 1 1/3 to four years and 2 1/3 to seven years.