Prison Guard Allegedly Swapped Paint, Tools for Escapee’s Art
A veteran New York state corrections officer rolled out the red carpet for two convicted murderers who have made a spectacular prison break — giving them art supplies, tools and access to the catwalks behind the walls of their cell to do electrical work, stunning court documents say.
Gene Palmer, 57, of Dannemora, was arrested Wednesday and hit with promoting prison contraband and tampering with physical evidence, both felonies, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor in connection with the “Shawshank Redemption”-style June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from Clinton Correctional Facility.
The veteran officer, who also allegedly inadvertently passed the inmates tools in frozen hamburger meat, appeared at Plattsburgh Town Court Wednesday and did not enter a plea. He was later released from Clinton County Jail after posting $25,000 bail, the jail confirmed.
He was set to be arraigned Thursday.
According to the court documents, Palmer went shopping for art supplies at Michaels in exchange for “elaborate paintings” done by Matt — which he burned or buried after their escape — in addition to information about misconduct for other prisoners. He also allegedly let Sweat alter the electrical box in his cell and provided him access to the catwalk behind it.
According to one of the criminal complaints, Palmer, who has 27 years on the force, gave the inmates a flathead screwdriver and needlenose pliers on four occasions between November 2014 to June 6, 2015.
He allegedly gave the inmates the tools in exchange for paintings. Matt, who reportedly painted stunning portraits of celebs, and Sweat were housed in the prison’s “Honor Block,” which gave well-behaved inmates privileges such as laundry and cooking as well as working as assistants to plumbers and electricians, a source told ABC News.
“I purchased and then provided paint and paint brushes for Richard Matt on two separate occasions,” Palmer allegedly told investigators in a statement date June 20. He also described shopping at Michael’s in Plattsburgh approximately two years ago for “white zinc paint” and “white titanium paint” as well as “one large tube of acrylic paint” for Sweat, the statement says.
Then on May 29, he said that he received a package from prison worker Joyce Mitchell, who is also accused of helping the inmates, to give to Matt, the statement said.
According to the documents, the package was a “green-colored, woven cloth bag” approximately 12 inches by 5 inches containing more than a pound of frozen hamburger meat.
The beef was packaged in styrofoam with plastic wrap but no price sticker on it, the statements said. There were also allegedly two tubes of paint and a “small, green cloth item.”
The next day, he took the package and delivered it to Matt through his cell.
“I cannot remember providing him with anything else,” he allegedly said.
Palmer also admitted to allowing Sweat to work on the electrical boxes of the cell by accessing the catwalk behind them “because inmate Matt asked me and I was doing him a favor,” he allegedly said.
But he denied knowing the men would escape.
“I did not realize at the time, that the assistance provided to Matt or Sweat made their escape easier,” he allegedly told investigators.
He said the electrical work was done “to enhance their ability to cook in their cells,” according to the statement.
“Matt provided me with elaborate paintings and information on the illegal acts that inmates were committing within the facility,” the statement said. “In turn, I provided him with benefits such as paint, paintbrushes, movement of inmates, hamburger meat, altering of electrical boxes in the catwalk areas.”
In the wake of the escape, Palmer allegedly burned some of the paintings in a fire pit at his residence and buried others in the woods.
In an interview, Clinton County DA told ABC News that the pliers were used for the inmates’ paintings.
“I’m not attributing those pliers in any manner to the escape,” Wylie said.
He also added that bringing Matt and Sweat to the catwalk was “totally inappropriate” unless it was authorized.
Joyce Mitchell, who worked in the prison tailor shop, 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 Correctional 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 today in a statement to ABC News.