Prison instructor to be charged in New York inmates' escape

Jun 12, 2015 5:29 PM by CBS/AP

DANNEMORA, N.Y. --Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailor-shop instructor who was once investigated over a possible relationship with one of two prisoners who escaped from an upstate New York prison nearly a week ago, will be charged Friday in connection with their escape, said Clinton County, New York Sheriff David Favro.

Mitchell, 51, is suspected of aiding the breakout by supplying the men with prohibited items and agreeing at one point to be their getaway driver. It is unclear what she will be charged with.

Favro said Mitchell will be arrested, processed and then arraigned before being transported to the jail in Plattsburg, N.Y. He said there is no indication she is being uncooperative.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the law will come down hard on any prison system employee found to helped aid in the inmates' escape.

Cuomo said investigators are "talking to several people who may have facilitated in the escape."

Authorities are "learning more and more information each day from her, as far as establishing a timeline on how this process occurred and what her involvement was," he said.

Mitchell's family has said she wouldn't have helped the convicts break out.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the inmates - David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48, - is focused on an area in Cadyville, New York, which is just 3 miles from the town of Dannemora, where the two cut their way out of their cells last weekend. Dannemora is just 20 miles south of the Canadian border.

CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reported Friday afternoon that a man who owns 50 acres of land in Cadyville says police advised him they think the escaped convicts are on his property. Werner says more than 500 officers are focusing on that community.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie told CBS News Friday morning that authorities had found two sets of footprints at a Mobil gas station in Dannemora and that bloodhounds detected the escapees' scents there.
CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton reports dogs picked up the fugitives' scent in Cadyville, as well.

On Friday, a law enforcement source told Milton that investigators believe the men are still together.

Mitchell has a $56,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

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 sad. 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.

"But action, I think, was taken to separate the two of them for a period," he said.

The state corrections department would not comment on the investigation.

Wylie would not specify what contraband items he believes Mitchell supplied to the killers for their escape, except to say that the objects weren't the power tools the two used to cut through steel, bricks and a steam pipe.

Contraband can include such things as cellphones, weapons, drugs, tools and unauthorized clothing.

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation told the Associated Press 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.
Wylie said he may charge Mitchell with promoting prison contraband and hindering prosecution by helping the men escape. Each charge carries up to seven years in prison.

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, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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.

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