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Suspensions Of Key Staff As Investigations Continue At Dannemora

Pat Bradley/WAMC
Clinton Correctional

With the search for the fugitives who escaped from the Clinton Correctional facility over, the focus now turns to the prison itself.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reviews actions that are known to be under way to determine how Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped the maximum security prison in Dannemora.

Sometime overnight June 6th  the pair managed to cut their way through a cell wall, navigated a maze of catwalks, cut and shimmied through steampipes, and emerged from a manhole several blocks outside the prison. Matt was killed by a Border Patrol tactical team in a wooded area about 30  miles west of the prison 20 days later.

The second fugitive, David Sweat, was captured in Constable, less than two miles from the Canadian border last Sunday.  Law enforcement officers have been questioning Sweat as he recovers at Albany Medical Center from gunshot wounds incurred when he was caught.  He told investigators he and Matt had completed a practice run the night before their escape. He has denied using any power tools and claims to have begun cutting with hacksaw blades in January.

As the search ended, Governor Andrew Cuomo emphasized that investigations would continue into exactly how the escape happened.  “Anyone who we find who was culpable and guilty of cooperating in this escape will be fully prosecuted. We will also be conducting an investigation into the systems in that prison and we already started a full investigation that’s being headed by the Inspector General of the State of New York.”

Cuomo ordered that Inspector General’s investigation on June 15th. On Tuesday, a dozen workers at the prison were placed on administrative leave, including Superintendent Steven Racette and Deputy Superintendent Stephen Brown.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey’s district includes Dannemora and the prison.  She is a member of the Assembly Committee on Corrections.  She says with the Inspector General’s probe still in progress, the suspensions were premature.  “I believe that these administrative leaves for the superintendent and the first deputy are totally unacceptable. The Inspector General was brought in to review what’s going on up there and I’m not sure anybody saw this coming. We felt that within a couple weeks the Inspector General would be wrapping up their onsite investigation and then be issuing a report. So I think this was premature. I think it was wanting to prove a point and it did.”

Cherie Racette, the wife of the suspended superintendent, told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that he had been given an option to retire or accept a demotion.  He will retire.  She lashed out at the governor, saying it was a political move, forcing someone to take the fall.  Reached by WAMC on Wednesday, Cherie Racette said they need time to process what is happening and declined to be interviewed.

Assemblywoman Duprey says she spoke at length Tuesday with the Racettes after the Department of Corrections announced the suspensions.   “Steve Racette has helped to bring that facility back from the horrible condition it was in when he walked in just over a year ago. He would have brought it back from this cataclysmic event that has happened and he would have done it well. It is to me unacceptable that this has been handled the way it has.”

National media outlets are reporting the FBI is looking into reports of drug smuggling at the prison.  Duprey said that had not been confirmed with her office, but trafficking is a major concern at prison facilities throughout the state.  “I’m not going to confirm or deny that they’re there.  But it is a widespread issue.  The superintendents who are the professionals in these facilities have got to be given the authority to run them the way they believe they should be run and to do what they need to do to take back their facilities.  Part of that is going to be searching cells and finding contraband before it becomes a major issue.  And it already is a major issue in many instances, not just at Clinton, across the state.”

The New York State Department of Corrections told WAMC it had no updates on the prison investigation Wednesday morning.

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