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Governor orders investigation of Dannemora prison break

ALBANY – With lawmakers and others raising concerns about the Dannemora prison break, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that he has told his state inspector general to investigate how two convicted murderers escaped from maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility.

The internal investigation by Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott comes 10 days after Richard W. Matt and David P. Sweat cut their way out of their prison cells. While the public face of the search has focused on areas near the Clinton County facility, officials have said they have no idea where the two men might be.

The announcement of the probe suggests that the investigatory agency is inexperienced in state prison matters. Cuomo said the Inspector General’s Office will hire a “respected outside expert in corrections and law enforcement.”

A Cuomo administration spokesman said the outside expert has not yet been chosen. “This is an extraordinary situation, and having an expert augment the work of seasoned investigators at the IG’s Office is appropriate,” said spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

A Cuomo spokesman said the probe will only be looking at how the two men might have escaped and the operations of the prison and not at how the search for their whereabouts has been conducted.

Various media reports have described tensions between federal and state law enforcement officials. The New York Post reported Monday that Cuomo disrupted officials trying to lead the search just hours after the escapes when he showed up at the prison to get a tour of the situation.

The probe by the inspector general also is supposed to consider and recommend changes to the prison and possibly all prisons to try to prevent such escapes in the future. Law enforcement officials have, for instance, expressed surprise that there were no surveillance cameras in place near the manhole from which the two men escaped just outside the prison walls.

Cuomo said it is “critically important” to understand how the escape occurred.

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican last week reported that a major fight occurred at the prison about a week before Matt and Sweat escaped. Citing anonymous current and former correction officers, the newspaper said concerns were raised why the prison was not put in lockdown after the brawl.

Such a procedure includes searching all prison cells, which could have helped officials discover the escape operation that had already been well underway by then.

The Buffalo News reported last week that Matt and Sweat had access to the passages that led to their escape for about a month. They already had cut a hole in a cell wall from which they passed through at night to work on their breakout operation.

On Monday, Joyce E. Mitchell, a prison tailor shop supervisor, was back in a Plattsburgh courtroom where a judge advised her that she was getting a change in legal representation. Mitchell was arrested last week on charges that she brought contraband into the prison to give help to Matt and Sweat in their escape.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew J. Wylie declined to comment on an Albany Times Union report that the escape plot also included a plan to kill Mitchell’s husband.

The coming and going of the 10th day with the two convicts still at large saw the return of some normalcy in the North Country community: The local Saranac Central School District reopened its doors to students.

Officials said Monday that more than 900 leads about the possible whereabouts of Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, are being investigated. State Police have declined to say how many of those leads put the two convicts in New York State or somewhere out of state.