DANNEMORA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former inmate who bonded with one of the escaped inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility upstate spoke out for the first time Friday.
As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported exclusively, inmate Erik Jensen saw David Sweat’s familiar mugshot on the news two weeks ago Saturday when he escaped from the prison along with Richard Matt.
“It gave my goosebumps. My hair stood right up on end,” Jensen said. “I told my wife — I was like, ‘I know him.'”
Sweat was Jensen’s supervisor back in 2011 at the now-infamous prison tailor shop.
“I didn’t know he killed a police officer. I would not even think that he was in there for murder the way he held himself; the way he conducted himself; well-spoken when he did speak,” Jensen said. “He was head of the tailor shop. He came around and inspected everybody’s things; very personable when he had to be.”
Jensen spent nine months at Clinton Correctional for violating his parole on a larceny conviction. He bonded with Sweat over their shared passion for art.
“He wasn’t loud. He was quiet; reserved,” Jensen said. “He was an artist like me. We compared our artwork.”
Jensen was still bewildered Friday night as to how Sweat and Matt made it through the thick walls of the prison and out of a manhole. But he thinks they may have received crucial information from the woman is accused of worked to help them escape – prison worker Joyce Mitchell – by way of her husband who also worked at the prison.
“I believe that her husband, being a maintenance worker there, knew all those little catacombs and tunnels,” Jensen said.
Jensen spent less than a year locked up at Clinton, and cannot imagine spending years there.
“It’s horrible. It’s like a hell. It is a hell. Everyone in there probably wants to get out,” he said. “But I thought nobody could ever get out of there.”
Jensen said he was in no way rooting for Sweat and Matt.
“What they did was wrong and they should be caught,” he said. “They should be caught.”
Meanwhile, New York State Police late Friday said they were investigating a sighting of two men matching Sweat and Matt’s descriptions in Steuben County. The county is on the Southern Tier of New York State, far away from the prison.
Last Saturday, witnesses saw two men walking near the Gang Mills rail yard on Rita’s Way in the town of Erwin, state police said. The next day, two men with the same description were seen walking around County Route 115 in the town of Lindley, toward the Pennsylvania state line.
State police were sent to both communities to investigate the sightings, and have obtained surveillance video that is inconclusive. The video has been sent to Albany for further analysis.
While the sightings are unconfirmed, state police asked residents to be alert, and to call 911 immediately if the men are spotted. The men are considered very dangerous and no one should approach them, state police said.
Also Friday, a correction officer at the upstate prison was placed on administrative leave in connection with the escape. Further details were not released.
Sweat and Matt escaped June 6 from the maximum-security prison near the Canadian border. On Thursday, they were added to the U.S. Marshals Service 15 Most Wanted list, so as to expand public awareness and generate new leads.
The unnamed correction officer was placed on leave as part of the ongoing investigation into the escape, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Further information was not released.
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Prison worker Mitchell has been charged with helping in the escape effort by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools.
Mitchell has pleaded not guilty.