(DANNEMORA, N.Y.) — A New York state corrections officer was arrested Wednesday in connection with the escape of two convicted murders from an upstate prison who have evaded capture for weeks, officials said.
Gene Palmer, 57, of Dannemora, was hit with promoting prison contraband and tampering with physical evidence, both felonies, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor. He was set to be arraigned Wednesday night in Plattsburgh Town Court.
According to Clinton County DA Andrew Wylie, who announced the arrest, Palmer helped smuggle tools and other contraband to the fugitives, Richard Matt and David Sweat, in frozen hamburger meat, he told ABC News on Tuesday.
Joyce Mitchell, who worked in the prison tailor shop, and was accused of putting hacksaw blades, other tools and a screwdriver bit into the meat and then placing it into the shop’s freezer, where Palmer would allegedly retrieve it, according to Wylie.
Palmer had been placed on leave, said he didn’t know the tools were inside, the DA told ABC News. Mitchell echoed the sentiments, but bringing prisoners food is considered contraband, the DA said.
Matt was serving 25 years to life for kidnapping and beating a man to death in 1997. Sweat was serving life for killing a Broome County Sheriff’s deputy.
The men escaped from Clinton Correction facility, in upstate Dannemora, near the Canadian border, on June 6 in a spectacular breakout akin to that in “Shawshank Redemption.”
Sweat and Matt allegedly used power tools to cut through pipes and made their way through a series of catwalks and walls to make it through to the outside where they emerged from a manhole.
They have been on the lam ever since, and despite a series of sightings, police have not been able to catch them.
This week, investigators found prison-issued underwear at a hunting cabin in Owls Head, NY. They also found food and positive DNA samples were confirmed from both suspects.
The time frame was not immediately clear.
Mitchell faces a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation.
She has pleaded not guilty.
Before the escape she was investigated for having a suspected relationship with Sweat over the course of the past year but not enough evidence was found to take action.
Investigators were also checking Wednesday whether Mitchell may have had sex with other inmates besides Sweat.
Her lawyer, Steve Johnston, denied the allegations.
“On her behalf all I can say is that she has consistently denied having any sexual relationship with inmate Sweat,” her attorney Steve Johnston said Wednesday in a statement to ABC News.
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