Prison worker admits smuggling contraband to escaped convicts

As the search for the inmates continues, how David Sweat and Richard Matt got the power tools to cut through prison cell walls and a steam pipe remains unclear.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Law enforcement officials man a roadblock near Dannemora, New York on Wednesday.

As hundreds of officers continue to comb through New York, Vermont, and Canada nearly a week into the manhunt for escaped prisoners David Sweat and Richard Matt, the prison employee under investigation for assisting their escape, Joyce Mitchell, has finally broken her silence.

Ms. Mitchell, who oversaw the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, has admitted to smuggling Mr. Matt and Mr. Sweat various contraband, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told CNN on Friday. Among the items were hacksaw blades, eyeglasses, and drill bits. 

Mitchell did not, however, provide the inmates with the power tools they used to drill through the walls of their cells, Mr. Wylie told NBC. How they got the tools still remains unclear.

Thursday night, the Albany Times Union reported a different story: that Mitchell had in fact given Matt and Sweat the tools, as well as access to a cell phone.

In a stunning escape last week that took at least “a number of days,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Matt and Sweat hacked their way through several walls and pipes before clambering down internal walkways and emerging from a manhole to freedom.

The inmates had also been waiting for Mitchell to pick them up, police said, before she claims to have suffered an anxiety attack and abandoned the plan. Officials speculate that Mitchell may have fallen for the charms of Matt, who has been said by a prison source to have “a way with the ladies.”

On Saturday, Mitchell called in sick to work and checked herself into a hospital with “a case of nerves.”

While her son Tobey defended his mother to the police and in the media, Mitchell has admitted that Matt made her feel “special.” Months before, officials had also received a complaint about Mitchell’s relationship with 34-year-old Sweat, though after questioning her found there was not enough evidence to take action against the prison employee.

Meanwhile, a search area has been set up near a gas station a mile from the prison, where tracking dogs have picked up the scent of Matt and Sweat and led officials east to the town of Cadyville, New York, Wylie told reporters on Thursday evening.

"If this is an actual true lead that the dogs are following on, we hope to be successful in the next 24 hours," he said.

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