A New York Times investigation of the maximum security prison from which two convicted murderers escaped in early June revealed that prisoners there were brutally interrogated by guards following the high-profile jail-break.
“Where are they going? What did you hear? How much are they paying you to keep your mouth shut? You know what waterboarding is?” one guard reportedly asked inmate Patrick Alexander, while holding him up against a wall by his throat.
The interrogations reportedly began hours after Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, escaped from their honour block cells on June 6, and lasted for days. More than 60 inmates have filed complaints with the prisoners’ rights organisation Prisoners’ Legal Services, which are also being looked into by the Department of Corrections.
Mr. Alexander, whose interrogations were particularly harsh, reportedly shared a cell with Richard Matt.
“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 told the Times. “Then he starts punching me in the face. The other two get up and start hitting me also in the ribs and stomach.”
It was then when the officers threatened to waterboard him.
“You know what waterboarding is?” the prisoner said he was asked.
The alleged abused came as the prison and authorities frantically search for the convicted murders.
“Must have kept you awake with all that cutting, huh?” New York governor Andrew Cuomo asked an inmate after inspecting the holes made byt he escapees.
Another inmate, Victor Aponte, recalls similar abuse, writing in his complaint that officers tied a plastic bag around his neck and tightened it until he lost consciousness.
“I don’t know how long he hung me up like that because I passed out,” Mr. Aponte wrote.
To date, no prisoners have been implicated in the convicts’ escapes. Two prison guards, however, have been charged for providing Sweat and Matt with the tools they needed to break out, and 12 staffers are reportedly on leave following questions about their role in the escape.
But the department’s Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) was not taking any chances — in the weeks following the escape, the Times reports, the team transferred inmates who had lived near Matt and Sweat to solitary confinement, often beating them along the way.
“The CERT team rushed into my cell, threw me down on the bed, twisted my wrist and yelled at me not to resist,” an inmate, Manuel Nunez, wrote. He added that later they “assaulted me while I was cuffed, chained and shackled.”
The investigation follows an earlier New York Times report about how the maximum security prison wasn’t actually all that secure. Corrections officers had become complacent, the reported noted, leading to the kinds of oversights that allowed the convicts to meticulously plan, rehearse, and stage their escape.
The Times found, among other things, that nightly bed checks were not performed properly, underground tunnels were not regularly inspected, and some security posts were not filled.
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