Prison worker arrested, accused of aiding 2 NY escapees
DANNEMORA, N.Y. — A worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison has been arrested on charges she helped two convicted killers escape, state police said Friday.
Fifty-one-year-old Joyce Mitchell was arrested and will be arraigned on charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband and fourth-degree criminal facilitation, state police said.
Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and giving them contraband.
District Attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn't include power tools used by the men as they cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers continued to search for the escapees, concentrating Friday in a rural area near the prison. The hunt for the inmates was focused on an area where residents reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall outside the far northern New York town of Dannemora.
About 300 searchers were added, bringing the total number of state, federal and local law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt to more than 800.
Mitchell's family has said she wouldn't have helped the convicts break out.
An instructor in the tailor shop where the men worked, Mitchell is also suspected of agreeing to be a getaway driver but didn't show up, leaving the men on foot early Saturday morning.
Mitchell has a $56,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison.
Within the past year, officials looked into whether Mitchell had improper ties to the 34-year-old Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff's deputy, Wylie said. He gave no details on the nature of the suspected relationship.
The investigation didn't turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, the district attorney said.
Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt's 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.
The state corrections department would not comment on the investigation into how the two inmates escaped or what Mitchell might have provided them. Prison contraband can include such things as cellphones, weapons, drugs, tools and unauthorized clothing.
On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said that Mitchell had befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A former slipper-factory employee who won three terms as tax collector in her town near Dannemora, Mitchell has worked at the prison for at least five years, according to a neighbor, Sharon Currier. Mitchell's husband, Lyle, also works in industrial training there.
"She's a good, good person," Currier said. "She's not somebody who's off the wall."
The garment shop is intended to give prisoners job skills and work habits. In general, an inmate assigned to such a job might work several hours a day there, five days a week, meaning he would have significant contact with supervisors.
Mitchell's union, Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, would not comment Friday on the prior investigation of Mitchell or the current allegations.
But her daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, said this week that her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn't get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.
And Mitchell's son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.
Klepper reported from Albany. Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz in New York and Chris Carola and Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.