New York officials said Thursday a potential jailbreak was stopped after investigators sweeping a detention center uncovered an inmate’s apparent escape plot to use 64 neatly tied bed sheets to shimmy down 11 stories from his cell block to the streets.
Ernest Murphy, awaiting trial on an attempted-murder charge, had the sheets stashed under a sink in his cell at the Manhattan Detention Center, Mark Peters, a commissioner of the city Department of Investigation, said. The coil stretched the length of a gymnasium nearly four times.
"Thankfully, it was discovered before he had an opportunity to test his skills at making a getaway," Peters said. "And so the city was spared the potential spectacle of joining the state for the past two weeks in a manhunt for escaped inmates."
Peters was referring to the massive manhunt for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt, who authorities believe used power tools smuggled by a worker at the Clinton Correction Facility in Dannemora to break through a wall, cut a hole through a pipe and vanish nearly two weeks ago.
Murphy was arrested May 11 on a charge of promoting prison contraband. He had already been jailed on allegations he participated in a gang assault in which a man was slashed and shot. The man didn’t admit to the escape plot but authorities say there was no other reason for the sheets to be there.
"We have all witnessed in recent weeks the serious consequences that can result when contraband is smuggled inside prison walls," Vance said.
City correction officer Patricia Howard was arrested May 9 on a Harlem street in her uniform, holding a bag of contraband that included drugs, lighters and flashlights and $800, her cut of the operation, officials said. She is awaiting arraignment, and it wasn't immediately clear who represents her.
Howard has been a correction officer for nearly 20 years, and investigators said she had more than 2,400 calls to inmates during her tenure and even received a thank-you note from an inmate for supporting "the jail shopping network."
She walked into the jail with the contraband and then handed it over to inmate Tommy Davis, there on an attempted-murder charge, who would distribute it to other inmates, authorities said. Davis used his sister and niece to get the orders filled outside the jail, authorities said. The four were charged with crimes including promoting prison contraband, attempted sale of a controlled substance and bribery.
The search of prison cells also turned up a blade, a pen with a sharpened tip, marijuana and a scale for weighing drugs, officials said. The investigation continues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.