D.A.: Guard took hidden tools into cell area

Story highlights

  • Former inmate says Joyce Mitchell brought art supplies and food to one of the inmates who later escaped
  • Eric Jensen describes relationship he saw develop between inmate and Joyce Mitchell
  • Joyce Mitchell’s attorney says she denies having sex with David Sweat

A corrections officer from the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York has been arrested and charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, destroying evidence and official misconduct, Andrew Brockway, an attorney for the man, told CNN on Wednesday.

Officer Gene Palmer, who is on paid leave, allegedly took frozen meat embedded with smuggled tools to the inmates’ cell area in the now-closed honor block, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Wednesday. Wylie also said Palmer escorted the men into the catwalk area behind their cells to fix electrical breakers so the inmates could use hot plates to cook food. Authorities have said Matt and Sweat used the catwalks during their June 6 escape.

[Previous story, posted at 8:06 p.m.]

A former inmate who served time with two New York prison escapees told CNN on Wednesday that he saw what appeared to be a relationship between one of the escapees and a prison worker who is now charged with helping the convicted killers break out.

While at Clinton Correctional Facility, Eric Jensen said he knew Richard Matt and David Sweat, and the latter may have had sex with the Joyce Mitchell, a supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop.

Mitchell’s lawyer said that was not possible and his client has denied it.

Sweat and Mitchell often flirted, Jensen told CNN.

“It would be (like) when the cute guy at the high school asks the girl to prom and the look on her face every day when they would get together,” Jensen said. “They would laugh, giggle — conversations all day long.”

Mitchell and Sweat would go to the back of the tailor room to count garments, he said, adding that inmates could get bonuses for producing more than a quota required.

“It was a running joke inside the tailor shop that (Mitchell) was his ‘boo,'” Jensen said.

She sometimes brought him tattoo or art supplies and food that inmates couldn’t get inside the prison, Jensen said.

She often mingled with the other inmates and sometimes brought doughnuts. Some viewed her as a grandmother figure, he said.

Mitchell “used to always treat” Sweat well, Jensen added, saying that inmates believed they were having sex. Sweat wouldn’t join other inmates when they went to eat, he said. “He’d stay back with her in the tailor shop.”

The inmates asked Sweat if anything was going on between him and Mitchell.

“He used to laugh,” Jensen recalled. “He would never confirm or deny it.”

Sweat didn’t have much to say, Jensen said. “He never was a very outspoken person. The reason me and him bonded so well is because I’m an artist. He’s an artist. We shared our artwork. He was very intricate with his details.”

Jensen was in Clinton from June 2011 to March 2012 for possession of stolen property. He finished his term at Attica Correctional Facility.

Mitchell’s attorney, Steve Johnston, said that while he hadn’t spoken with his client about this allegation, she has told investigators and him that she did not have sex with Sweat.

“Furthermore, it would seem that such an allegation defies credibility since it is my understanding that there is always at least one corrections officer within the tailor/sewing shop at all times when any inmate is in the shop,” Johnson told CNN’s Brian Todd.

Johnston added that he thinks the department of corrections investigated the relationship between Sweat and Mitchell, and “found no evidence of any such conduct.”

Could inmates be armed?

The search for Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, continued Wednesday for the 19th day. Officials expressed concerned that the escapees may have acquired long guns from one of the seasonal cabins in the area.

When asked during a midday news conference if a shotgun was missing, Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police said he doesn’t have information about a specific shotgun.

“I would point out to you that, those of you who are not familiar with the area, just about every cabin or out building in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons, and we have since Day 1 operated under the belief that these men are armed,” he said.

Law enforcement officials noted the tough terrain searchers have struggled to traverse in the search for clues. The focus in recent days has centered on a cabin in which a law enforcement official told CNN the inmates’ DNA was found. The cabin had been burglarized.

Responding to a question from a reporter about whether a bloody sock had been found, New York State Police Trooper Maj. Charles Guess said he could not confirm or deny that.

“We have no definitive information to reveal that someone was injured,” Guess said.

“Let’s face it, a bloody sock could mean somebody had a blister or it could mean a lot worse,” he added.

Hacksaw blades in hamburger meat?

Earlier in the day, Clinton County’s chief prosecutor said Mitchell smuggled tools embedded in meat through the main gate at the prison.

She placed the meat in a freezer in the tailor shop, according to Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie, and then she asked corrections officer Gene Palmer to take the meat to the inmates’ cell area in the honor block.

Mitchell, who has been charged with aiding the escapees, admitted to putting hacksaw blades and drill bits into a hunk of hamburger meat, according to the prosecutor. Palmer could have put it through a metal detector but he didn’t, which was a violation of prison policy, Wylie said.

Mitchell did not have access to the cells, which is why she needed Palmer to hand it off, according to the prosecutor.

CNN first broke the news Tuesday of the tools frozen in meat.

“Before he handed off the meat, he asked if there was anything wrong with it and she said no,” Palmer’s attorney Andrew Brockway told Anderson Cooper.

Palmer did not know what was inside the package, Brockway said, adding, “The only mistake he made was trusting Joyce Mitchell.”

Wylie said prosecutors also believe Palmer didn’t know about the tools.

Palmer is on paid leave. He has not been arrested or charged.

More than a dozen investigators from the New York State Inspector General’s office are at the Clinton Correctional Facility investigating possible breaches of security protocols that allowed Matt and Sweat to escape, a state law enforcement official said.

The investigators are going through visitor logs and documents related to prisoner and employee movements at the jail, the official said.

Who are Richard Matt and David Sweat?

Opinion: What will happen to the prison tailor?

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