Clinton County prosecutor Andrew Wylie told reporters late Wednesday night that Gene Palmer carried into the prison frozen patties of hamburger meat that may have had saw blades and drill bits stuffed inside.
The guard also allegedly showed convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat a utility catwalk area behind their cells, which the inmates later used as part of their escape.
Palmer has been described by co-workers as a dedicated corrections officer. In an interview with North Country Public Radio in 2000, he described the stress and pressure of working in one of New York’s toughest prisons.
“With the money that they pay you, you’ll go bald, you’ll have high blood pressure, you’ll become an alcoholic, you’ll divorce, and then you’ll kill yourself,” he said.
Speaking during a tour of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., Palmer said working as a guard in a maximum security facility plagued by inmate fights and other violence had changed him.
“It’s a negative environment,” he said in the interivew. “And long-term exposure to a negative environment, you become hard on issues, as when you see someone get cut in the face and they’re bleeding and stuff.”
Palmer hasn’t spoken publicly since last week when he was placed on administrative leave and his home was searched by New York State Police.
Palmer’s attorney Andrew Brockway told television station WPTZ that Palmer is innocent. “He did not know that they were planning on breaking out of the prison.”
Brockway has since told reporters that Palmer was tricked into smuggling tools and other contraband into the prison.
Word that a uniformed officer may have been involved in this high-profile escape comes after state officials initially pointed fingers at contract maintenance workers and civilian employees.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke with NBC News shortly after the prison break: “I’d be shocked if a correction guard was involved in this. But they definitely had help. Otherwise they couldn’t have done this on their own, even from the equipment point of view.”
The two inmates apparently spent days cutting through steel walls and pipes using power tools without being detected. Civilian prison worker Joyce Mitchell has also been arrested and charged with aiding the men.
While this criminal investigation is underway, a massive manhunt continues for the two inmates in a remote stretch of mountain forest northwest of the prison. More than 1,000 searchers are in the field.
Captain John Streiff who heads New York’s forest rangers says the effort is being hampered by heavy rain and rough terrain.
“Searchers are methodically moving through an environment where it’s not only difficult to navigate, but the distance you can see ahead of you is sometimes only a few feet or less,” Streiff says.
The head of the manhunt, State Police Major Charles Guess, warned that the two inmates may have armed themselves at a hunting cabin in the area near Mountain View, N.Y.
“Just about every cabin or outbuilding in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons. We have since day one operated on the belief that these men are armed. They’re extremely dangerous, they’re cunning,” Guess said.
As this search enters its 20th day, there have been no confirmed sightings of the two men, despite more than 2,000 tips from the public.