Law enforcement squabbles reportedly hamper search for escaped killers

Andrew Wylie speaks out about the latest in the investigation


The ongoing manhunt for two convicted murderers who escaped from a maximum security New York prison earlier this month has been set back by conflicts between the law enforcement agencies pursuing the men.

The New York Post reported late Sunday that the New York State Police, the lead agency into the investigation, has refused to share information about the planning and scope of the search for David Sweat and Richard Matt. Some of the other agencies involved in the manhunt are local police, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, the state Correctional Services Department, the state Environmental Conservation Department, and the U.S. Marshals.

At one point during the search, the Post reported, a group of heavily armed State Police troopers was patrolling the woods near Willsboro, N.Y., when they were startled by a Correctional Services Department team that came across their path.

"One team didn’t know what the other team was doing, and that is very dangerous," a law enforcement source told the Post.

The Post report also says that the State Police have excluded at least one other police agency from taking part in press conferences to update the status of the manhunt, a move the paper described as "demoralizing."

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"The State Police are trying to make sure that they’re the ones to catch these guys, that they get all the credit," another source told the paper, "and as a result, they’re not making full use of the assets that are available to them."

The paper's sources also criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initial appearance at the searchers' command center on June 6, the day Matt and Sweat's escape from the Clinton County Correctional Facility in Dannemora was discovered. The Post reported that Cuomo disrupted the early search efforts by refusing to enter the room until it was cleared of everyone except state law enforcement. Among those ejected were a U.S. Marshal and Clinton County Sheriff David Favro.

"They did it without even saying ‘Thanks for your help,’ or such, just, ‘Get out so his highness can enter,'" the second source told the Post.

Sweat and Matt cut their way out of the prison on the night of June 5. Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Sunday the men apparently used tools routinely stored there by contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work so that no one would notice.

Investigators believe the men have not gone far from the prison, noting the lack of reports of stolen vehicles in the area following the breakout. However, Cuomo cautioned Sunday that for all anyone knows, the convicts could be in Mexico by now.

Wylie said it apparently took a long time for the killers to complete their plan, working methodically between midnight and 5 a.m. over many nights.

"They had access, from what we understand, to other tools left in the facility by contractors under policy and were able to open the toolboxes and use those tools and then put them back so nobody would notice," the prosecutor said.

He also said the men had been scouting out the tunnel system under the prison at night for the best way get out.

The convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole, authorities said.

Workers on Sunday welded shut a manhole at the base of a wall on the side of the prison where the two men escaped. They also sealed two other manholes on the street near prison, including the one the convicts climbed out of.

Prison worker Joyce Mitchell, 51, was charged Friday with supplying hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver. Wylie said Sunday the two inmates planned to have Mitchell drive them about seven hours away to an unknown destination. The men also reportedly planned to kill Mitchell's husband, Lyle, who also worked at the prison.

Joyce Mitchell appeared in court Monday morning in Plattsburgh, wearing a striped prison uniform with her hands cuffed and chains around her feet. She waived a preliminary hearing during the brief appearance.

Residents are very much on edge, with some saying they were keeping guns handy. But there was also an outpouring of support for the search effort. A restaurant urged people to tie blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes.

"The locals have been awesome," said Sgt. Barry Cartier of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, part of a crew from a neighboring county working 12-hour shifts. "They come around with food all the time. We've got too much to eat."

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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