The New York Times has uncovered evidence that — in the days after Richard W. Matt and David Sweat escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in New York state and captivated the country by evading detection for the better part of a month — remaining inmates were abused and assaulted by correctional officers in an attempt to obtain information about the escapees’ possible whereabouts.
The Times reviewed letters and conducted interviews, within which inmates alleged a number of heinous abuses, including: being beaten while handcuffed, choked to the point of unconsciousness, slammed against walls and cell bars, deprived of earned privileges, and relocated to other blocks and prisons without reason or explanation. The accounts from different prisoners are eerily similar, and indicate that officers brutally pumped them for information about Matt and Sweat’s plan that might aid in their capture.
Patrick Alexander, an inmate who had a cell near Matt’s, alleges that the day after the escape he was questioned twice by guards. Then, at 8 p.m., he was collected by three guards who handcuffed him and brought him into a broom closet, where he was beaten and interrogated. Alexander says one officer wore a jacket marked “C.I.U.,” for Crisis Intervention Unit; that same officer asked him if he understood the difference between the earlier interviews and the one that was being conducted in the closet. Later, he claims the guards put a plastic bag over his head and threatened to waterboard him. Another inmate, named Victor Aponte, shared a similar account, and others allege that they were told to sign a statement asserting that they had not been assaulted by officers.
Interestingly enough, the only individuals who have been fingered for involvement in Sweat and Matt’s escape are prison employees themselves: Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty to helping the pair plot and enact their escape, and Gene Palmer was charged with tampering with evidence, misconduct, and promoting contraband.
Inmates have also alleged that security oversight on the “honor block,” which housed prisoners who had achieved good-behavior privileges, made it possible for Sweat to prepare the escape route — and that if prison security officers had been doing their jobs, they would have noticed what he was up to in the first place.