NEW: Prison guard loaned tools to inmates while they were on catwalks behind walls fixing electrical breakers, source says
NEW: Gene Palmer has integrity, but made some mistakes, his lawyer tells CNN
Former inmate Eric Jensen describes relationship he saw develop between David Sweat and Joyce Mitchell
A corrections officer from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York has been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor in connection with the escape of two convicted killers earlier this month, the prison guard’s lawyer said Wednesday.
Officer Gene Palmer, 57, faces one count of promoting dangerous prison contraband, two counts of destroying evidence and one count of official misconduct, a misdemeanor, attorney Andrew Brockway said. The contraband charge carries the heaviest possible punishment, up to seven years in prison.
The longtime guard gave at least one of the prison escapees a screwdriver and a wrench to help fix electrical breakers in the catwalk area behind their cells, an official familiar with the investigation told CNN.
Palmer told investigators he supervised Richard Matt and David Sweat doing the work and took the tools back before the end of his shift, the official said. Authorities have said Matt and Sweat used the catwalks during their June 6 escape.
The tools were found at Palmer’s home after police executed a search warrant, the official added.
“I won’t comment specifically on whether or not my client did that,” Brockway told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360˚.”
Investigators also believe Palmer destroyed some of the paintings Richard Matt made for him, the official said.
“Mr. Palmer has been completely cooperative with the investigation,” Brockway said from outside Plattsburgh Town Court, where his client was arraigned Wednesday night. “He will continue to cooperate. He’s a man of integrity who made some mistakes.”
The state police said Palmer pleaded not guilty on all the charges. He will spend the night in the Clinton County Jail and is due back in court on Thursday. Brockway said he intends to get his client out on bail as soon as possible so he can “take care of his ailing wife.”
Palmer, who has worked at the prison for 27 years, allegedly took frozen meat embedded with smuggled tools to the inmates’ cell area in the now-closed honor block, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Wednesday. Brockway said Tuesday his client was unaware there was contraband in the meat.
“He understands that he made a mistake with the whole meat fiasco,” Brockway said.
Palmer’s arrest comes as more than a dozen investigators from the New York State Inspector General’s office arrived at the prison to investigate possible breaches of security protocols that allowed Matt and Sweat to escape, a state law enforcement official said.
The investigators are going through visitor logs and documents related to prisoner and employee movements at the jail, the official said.
Hacksaw blades in hamburger meat
Earlier Wednesday, Wylie said Joyce Mitchell, a supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop, smuggled tools embedded in meat through the main gate at the prison.
She placed the meat in a freezer in the tailor shop, according to Wylie, and then she asked Palmer to take the meat to the inmates’ cell area in the honor block.
Mitchell, who has been charged with aiding the escapees, admitted to putting hacksaw blades and drill bits into a hunk of hamburger meat, according to the prosecutor. Palmer could have put it through a metal detector but he didn’t, which was a violation of prison policy, Wylie said.
Mitchell did not have access to the cells, which is why she needed Palmer to hand it off, according to the prosecutor.
CNN first broke the news Tue