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North Country News

North Country Marks One Year Since Prison Escape

Monday marks one year since New York’s North Country was upended by a massive manhunt for two escaped murderers.  We look back at the 23-day search for Clinton Correctional Facility inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat.
 “The nightmare is finally over.”  That is how Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the end of a three-week manhunt last year that brought thousands of law enforcement officers to the North Country seeking two escaped murderers.

On June 6th 2015 David Sweat and Richard Matt were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.  There had never been an escape from the maximum security facility before then.

Clinton County Sheriff Dave Favro received a phone call from his patrol lieutenant about 8:10 that morning informing him that two inmates were missing.  He says at first he couldn’t believe it.    “He called me back probably about twenty minutes later and said that they found the area where they clearly breached security of the walls and that the two missing inmates were out in public. So I grabbed my gear and started to head right up towards the Dannemora area. And when I came up I drove by the manhole that they had came out that was heavily secured.  It was within an hour or so I had received the photographs and I had learned who the actual inmates were and that one of them of course being David Sweat who had brutally killed a sheriff's deputy. So I knew there was a significant danger to the public.”

Both inmates were eventually found in neighboring Franklin County.  Matt was shot and killed by a tactical team from Customs and Border Protection on June 26th.  At the time, NYS Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico described Matt’s demise.   “A tactical team from Customs and Border Protection met up with Matt in the woods, challenged him and he was shot dead by Border Patrol at that time. We recovered a twenty gauge shotgun from Matt's body at the location.”

In a moment worthy of a movie plot, Sweat was captured two days later when State Police Sergeant Jay Cook spotted him while on patrol.  Sweat bolted towards a tree stand that could have provided cover as he attempted to cross the Canadian border.  But Cook, a sharpshooter, took aim and shot Sweat twice, ending the manhunt. Sweat survived his injuries and later pleaded guilty to charges related to the escape.

A year later, Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill is the Republican running to replace retiring Assemblywoman Janet Duprey.   He remembers being in the command post when Matt was shot and then two days later when Sweat was captured.   “The Friday that Richard Matt was shot and killed we had been in the area for almost a week. And there was just something about that Friday. We had found some new D.N.A. We really felt like we were getting close. You can almost feel the atmosphere change. And then we heard the radio call: ‘Down hard.’ And then the confirmation: ‘Mexico forever.’ That was our confirmation that Richard Matt had been shot and killed. With Sweat, Sergeant Cook was there. Right man, right time and did the job that he's been trained to do. Good feeling for us but what a feeling for the community and the public. It was just a big sigh of relief, you know that whole weight had been lifted off everybody’s shoulders.”

The escape and its aftermath have reinforced Assemblywoman Duprey’s staunch support of corrections and law enforcement.  She says the opportunity to honor the searchers is one of her greatest moments during her 10 years serving in Albany.   “The ability to recognize the Corrections Emergency Response Teams, known as CERT, who came here during the escape, who were boots on the ground. The men who walked through the swamps and through the woods and worked 16, 18, 20 hours a day, slept on cots for a few hours and got back up and started all over again.  I had the opportunity to also recognize with an Assembly resolution Major Chuck Guess and our hometown hero Sergeant Jay Cook. They were so significant to such a difficult time in our history and the opportunity to be able to thank them and all of our correction officers.  But we’re waiting for that Inspector General report to come out. I’m going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the correction officers and we’re going to deal with what's in the report.”

Two former Clinton Correctional employees are serving prison terms for their roles in helping Matt and Sweat escape.   Tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell is serving 7 years in prison and former Corrections Officer Gene Palmer was sentenced to 6 months under a plea agreement.  Sweat received a more stringent sentence.

Dozens of prisoners filed complaints with Prisoners’ Legal Services shortly after the Matt and Sweat were captured, alleging violent retribution by corrections officers.  Last August, Correctional Association of New York Director of Prison Visiting Project Jack Beck said he wasn’t surprised.   “The report of abuse that allegedly occurred after the escape continues a pattern of abuse, physical abuse, that we have observed on our previous visits.”

The New York State Inspector General was tasked with reviewing the management of the prison and what led to the escape.  Sheriff Favro says the report is highly anticipated.   “I'm very curious to see what the report reads and what actually occurred. I still don't have you know answers on that and every day people ask me what do you think happened. It would be nice to have more facts as to what actually occurred. To this moment I haven't physically walked through the actual crime scene to see for myself. As far as my operation at the jail itself it's constant vigilance. It's constant keeping people on their toes and letting them know that look it you know this was something that supposedly could never happen and it did.”

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