Cuomo Faces Criticism for His Handling of Dannemora Prison Escape

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo inspects a manhole where two prisoners escaped over the weekend.
Office of Gov. Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora by two convicted murderers has been heavily criticized since the dramatic breakout last Friday.

Ten days after the escape, the two fugitives remain at large despite a massive manhunt estimated to cost more than $1 million per day.

But that manhunt, The New York Post reports, has been hampered by Cuomo’s poor management.

On Sunday, The Post reported that “[t]he massive manhunt for two escaped murderers from the Dannemora prison has been hampered by State Police secrecy, inter-agency rivalries, and the disrupting involvement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the first day of the breakout, law enforcement sources have told The Post.”

That sentiment is shared by residents of Clinton County, the center of the manhunt.

“There was a lot of discussion about the problems the U.S. Marshals Services was having with the New York State Police and a lot of that was caused by Cuomo. The local radio station said he didn’t want to talk to anyone until the national press showed up. This guy is just doing damage control. He’s a headline grabber,” a retired correctional officer who worked at the Clinton Correctional Facility for more than three decades told Breitbart News.

According to The Post, “Cuomo’s surprise arrival at a still-unfolding escape scene a week ago Saturday generated considerable national publicity for the governor, but distracted investigators at a time when the full facts of the escape were not yet known, the sources said.”

One “long time law enforcement figure who has regular contact with many involved in the search effort,” told The Post that “Cuomo actually disrupted the early search efforts when he arrived at the ‘command center’ on Saturday and refused to enter the room until everyone was removed except state employees.’’

The criticism of Cuomo did not stop there. The source told The Post:

Cuomo’s aides came in and threw out the US marshal, the sheriff [David Favro, like Cuomo a Democrat] and others who were there to help coordinate the search effort.

And they did it without even saying ‘Thanks for your help’ or such, just, ‘Get out so his highness can enter.’

The State Police are trying to make sure that they’re the ones to catch these guys, that they get all the credit, and as a result, they’re not making full use of the assets that are available to them.’

Despite having been convicted of heinous crimes—Matt murdered and dismembered his boss and Sweat murdered a police officer–both convicts enjoyed privileges in the “honor block,” which made it easier for them to escape.

If New York State had not abolished capital punishment in 2004, both convicts would likely have faced the possibility of the death penalty. But that year the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that it was unconstitutional. Then-Governor Pataki vowed to correct that ruling legislatively, but did not succeed.

Cuomo is on the record as an opponent of capital punishment. In a 2004 op-ed in the New York Times, Cuomo argued that Democrats in the New York State Legislature should vigorously oppose Pataki’s efforts to re-institute the death penalty.

In 2011 his late father, former three-term Governor Mario Cuomo, wrote an op-ed for The New York Daily News arguing that the death penalty should be outlawed everywhere in the country.

Though he opposes the death penalty and has cut prison budgets across New York as governor, Cuomo is eager to be seen as tough on crime. “Several sources said they believe Cuomo had subsequently given orders that he be allowed to rush to the Dannemora area to take part in any press conference if the fugitives are caught,” The Post reported.

But sources tell The Post “the State Police, the lead agency, had repeatedly refused to share information on the design and scope of the manhunt with the local police, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, the state Correctional Services Department and the state Environmental Conservation Department, whose police officers are part of the search, as well as the US Marshals Service.”

Earlier, Breitbart News reported that a retired correctional officer said Cuomo’s anti-prison budget cuts created the environment that gave the two killers, 48 year old Richard Matt and 34 year old David Sweat (some reports place his age as 35), the opportunity to break out of the century and a half old prison just twenty miles south of the Canadian border and fifteen miles west of Plattsburgh, New York.

The New York Daily News echoed that theme on Monday:

Gov. Cuomo and his administration might have some explaining to do when and if the two escaped murderers from an upstate maximum-security prison are finally captured.

Assembly Correction Committee Chairman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) didn’t rule out a hearing into the factors that might have played into the June 6 breakout from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

On Monday, the story took another bizarre twist when the Albany Times-Union reported that Joyce Mitchell, the civilian prison worker who was arrested over the weekend for helping the prisoners escape, “allegedly told investigators she had discussed a plan with two convicted murderers that she would pick them up after they broke out of prison and they would possibly kill her husband and flee to an undisclosed destination,” according to a law enforcement source.

The Times-Union also reported that “[t]he source, who did not have direct knowledge of the interrogation, was told that during two State Police interviews lasting 10 hours each, Mitchell allegedly said David Sweat and Richard Matt may have planned to flee to a cabin at an undisclosed location in Vermont.”

On Monday morning, Mitchell’s court-appointed attorney Keith Bruno’s request to be removed from the case on grounds of conflict of interest was granted. The court appointed Plattsburgh attorney Stephen A. Johnston as Mitchell’s new defense counsel.

According to the Times-Union:

Mitchell, of Dickinson Center, Franklin County, is charged with providing hacksaw blades, chisels, a metal hole punch and a screwdriver drill bit to Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35.

Law enforcement authorities said the men used those items and other tools to cut their way out of Clinton Correctional Facility.

Mitchell was formally charged Friday in Plattsburgh City Court with first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor. Judge Mark Rogers set bail at $100,000 for the felony and $10,000 for the misdemeanor.

Mitchell, who had been at the Rensselaer County jail, was returned Sunday to Clinton County and is to appear in court Monday in Plattsburgh.

As the Times-Union reported, “Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell, 51, could face additional charges but didn’t elaborate.”

The blades, chisels, and drill bits provided by Mitchell enabled Matt and Sweat to cut through their cell walls.

“Supposedly the power tools [used subsequently to cut through the steel steam pipes they crawled through to escape] came from an outside contractor that were left in an area they were able to get to after they cut through their cell walls [using the tools provided by Mitchell] and got down in the basement and circumvented the security of the tools,” the retired correctional officer told Breitbart News.

Mitchell’s motivation to aid Matt and Sweat in their escape appears to have been personal in nature. “Law enforcement sources said Mitchell and one of the inmates, possibly Matt, had developed an intimate relationship and that she planned to be their getaway driver when they emerged from a sewer manhole a block from the prison on the night of their escape June 6,” the Times-Union reported.

However, Mitchell backed out of the plan at the last minute.

The prison escaped has turned into a huge political problem for Cuomo, who may have initially viewed it as a political opportunity.

Thomas Lifson, at American Thinker, “strongly suspect[s] Cuomo saw the prison break as an opportunity to distract from the political corruption investigation that threatens his future.”

Last week, The Post reported “Paralysis and “paranoia’’ brought on by US Attorney Preet Bharara’s ongoing corruption probe have come to define Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration with just seven days to go in the legislative session, a worried Cuomo ally and others have told The Post.”

But there has been no quick capture of the escapees, and Cuomo’s opportunity to bask in the public glow of their return to prison diminishes with each passing day.

Meanwhile, Bharara’s corruption probe continues.


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