N.Y. Governor Blamed for Post-Jailbreak Beatings | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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N.Y. Governor Blamed for Post-Jailbreak Beatings

A New York inmate jailed next to two prisoners who made a headline-grabbing escape two years ago claims in court that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo taunted him and allowed guards to beat inmates who didn’t have information about the escape.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CN) – A New York inmate jailed next to two prisoners who made a headline-grabbing escape two years ago claims in court that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo taunted him and allowed guards to beat inmates who didn’t have information about the escape.

Convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt slipped through holes they cut in the back walls of their cells on June 6, 2015, setting off a 23-day manhunt that frightened communities in upstate New York.

Joyce Mitchell, the prison’s civilian employee who ran a tailor shop, later admitted that she had sexual affairs with both of the men and helped them escape by smuggling hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat.

A three-week pursuit ended when a state policeman, Sgt. Jay Cook, saw Sweat jogging along a road near the Canadian border.

Ignoring the sergeant’s orders to surrender, Sweat darted across a field. Cook gave chase and shot Sweat twice in the torso as the escaped prisoner approached the woods. Sweat survived his bullet wounds, but his fellow escaped convict Matt was shot to death roughly 30 miles from the prison in Dannemora, N.Y., which is itself only about 25 miles from the Canadian border.

A probe into the escape by the investigator general found that officers at the front gate failed to search the bags of employees entering the prison.

Clinton Correctional Facility inmate Patrick Alexander says he was kept in a cell next to Matt, and Sweat’s cell was on the other side of Matt’s.

According to a lawsuit Alexander filed Friday in Syracuse federal court, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally taunted Alexander during a post-jailbreak visit to the prison, sarcastically suggesting to Alexander that the noise of the escapees' tunnel-digging "must have kept you awake with all that cutting."

Alexander also alleges that Cuomo assumed a "threatening voice and tough-guy look" and said, "Let me guess, you don't know fucking nothin’.”

In the wake of the escape, Cuomo ordered what he called “a thorough investigation to determine all factors potentially involved in the escape.”

Cuomo reportedly said, "I would be shocked if a correction official, if a guard was actually involved. And that's putting it mildly."

The 29-page complaint says dozens of inmates, including Alexander, were "brutally interrogated, beaten, and tortured by prison guards in an attempt at retribution and cover up.”

“While still shackled, [Alexander] was held up by the throat by one of the officer [sic] and they began beating him and questioning him, assuming, like defendant Governor Cuomo, that he had information about the escape,” the lawsuit states. “Then one of the officers put the plastic bag over his head and held it tightly around his neck. They continued to beat him.”

Alexander says he could barely breathe and thought he was going to die.

“After the assault ended, he was dragged back to his cell. He was bleeding and obviously badly injured. Other Honor Block inmates have reported a very similar experience,” the complaint states.

Alexander claims Gov. Cuomo and prison oversight co-defendants failed to take any corrective action to the abuse and excessive force exercised in the wake of the highly publicized escape.

"Cuomo's unjustified, overly broad public support of Clinton correction officers... assured them that the torture, physical abuse and harassment they inflicted on inmates in the aftermath of the escape would go unpunished,” he says.

The complaint alleges that the governor "created a condition and a de facto policy that Honor Block prisoners who did not know about the escape were not to believed, and should be taunted and dehumanized.”

The lawsuit calls Cuomo's denials and false allegations "an attempt to deflect attention away from state employee culpability, which could prove embarrassing to his administration."

Representatives for Gov. Cuomo did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

Alexander seeks punitive damages for alleged violations of his rights to due process, freedom of speech and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. He is represented by Leo Glickman of Stoll, Glickman & Bellina in Brooklyn.

U.S. District Judge Brenda Sannes is presiding over the case.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government

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