DANNEMORA, NY — After a high-profile prison break from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, prison guards and investigators resorted to the use of torture and beatings to interrogate inmates about the incident.
These allegations stem from the successful escape of convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt on June 6, 2015. Their elaborate plan included hacking through prison bars, beating up guards, and receiving the assistance of a prison staff member to escape. An intense manhunt dragged on for weeks until June 28th, when both fugitives had been either killed or captured.
During those desperate weeks, investigators used vicious and illegal tactics against prisoners to attempt to gather information about the escape. According to over 60 complaints filed in just 2 months, prisoners were subjected to being beaten while handcuffed, choked, smothered, and slammed against cell bars and walls.
One dramatic report came from Patrick Alexander, a prisoner who was targeted because his cell was in close proximity to the escapees’. The New York Times detailed some of Mr. Alexander’s experience:
Twice during the day of the escape, Mr. Alexander said he was questioned by investigators from the State Police and the corrections department inspector general’s office.
Then, around 8 p.m., he was handcuffed and taken to a broom closet where, he said, three corrections officers whom he had never seen before interrogated him. An officer wearing a jacket with the initials C.I.U. — Crisis Intervention Unit — sat down and asked him, “Do you know the difference between this interview and those other interviews?” Mr. Alexander recalled.
This time, the officer warned, there were only uniformed guards in the room, Mr. Alexander said.
“The officer jumps up and grabs me by my throat, lifts me out of the chair, slams my head into the pipe along the wall,” he said. “Then he starts punching me in the face. The other two get up and start hitting me also in the ribs and stomach.”
With each punch, Mr. Alexander said, the officers shouted another question.
“The whole time he’s holding me up by my throat,” he added.
When Mr. Alexander repeatedly insisted that he had no information, one officer pointed to a plastic bag hanging on some pipes, asked if he knew what it was for and said, “You know what waterboarding is?” Mr. Alexander recalled.
The officer then put the bag over his head and started beating him again, Mr. Alexander said.
He said the interrogation lasted about 20 minutes, and he was then taken, bleeding, back to his cell.
Later, Mr. Alexander said, the same officer “began quietly taunting and threatening me, telling me, ‘Don’t worry, Fat Boy, we’ll be seeing you really soon.’ ”
Other prisoners reported similar beatings; even being suffocated with a plastic bag to the point of unconsciousness. When the prisoners finally received medical care, days later, they told of being forced to sign statements that they were not beaten.
The organization which receives the inmate complaints, Prisoners’ Legal Services, says that the reports of abuse are still coming in. The New York State Department of Correctional Services said matter is being investigated, according to CNN, and promises that abusers will be “punished to the full extent of the law.”
The union that represents the guards, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, has predictably downplayed the complaints as “one-sided… allegations made by a handful of violent convicted felons.”