Escape Crisis and Lessons Learned

On June 6, 2015, an otherwise pleasant day signaling the dawn of an Adirondack sum- mer, the Clinton County District Attorney’s Office was thrust into what would become the largest emergency it has ever dealt with. That sunny Saturday began a three-week manhunt that received national and even international media attention and involved a coordination of law enforcement from the New York State Police to the Federal Marshals.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie, on a soccer field in Vermont with his children, received notification of the prison break from the State Police. From that moment forward Wylie, and everyone else, was able to follow the unfolding of events on various media sources including social media. Before the end of the day, Wylie was back in the office providing support to the investigators.

The DA’s office played a crucial role through- out the investigation into where the two fugitives might be. Personnel worked on every lead brought in by the multitude of law enforcement agencies assisting in the case. Phone records were subpoenaed and credit card purchases tracked in an attempt to confirm a location on the suspects and the possible involvement of other parties.

“There were requests coming in all weekend long,” explained Diane Livermore, Wylie’s Administrative Assistant, “and during the week, requests were constant.” The DA’s office issued subpoenas, confirmed information and reported it back to the investigators.

“At first I worked on the escape case full time and tried to keep the assistant district attorneys (ADAs) on their regular case load,” stated Wylie, “but after the first several days it was impossible to keep up.” For three weeks, 90% of the DA’s office was focused on the escape case, averaging twelve hour days.

“We had to juggle our priorities in the office. We cancelled grand juries and put off whatever could be rescheduled to focus on the escape,” added Livermore. “Now, five months later, we’re still catch- ing up. The office is about 60% back to normal.”

The crisis that hit the DA’s office in June stretched the capacity of the staff to its limits. They logged more overtime hours in that three week period than ever before, even on the largest murder cases in the county’s history. The irony is that when Wylie took over the DA’s office in 2006, growing the staff was one of his first initiatives. When Wylie realized that cases were being dismissed because too much time had passed since the initial arrest he knew the size of the staff wasn’t adequate to do the work required. “When I took over we had three full time and two part time ADAs. We have been able to grow to six full time ADAs in eight years,” he stated.

While he had prepared the office to handle a larger workload, the escape crisis brought something Wylie wasn’t prepared for. “It brought a whole new element to this job that I had never dealt with before,” he explained. “This was the hot case of the summer getting national media attention.”

One of the reasons Wylie stepped up to the microphone was he realized that the case needed to be explained well to the media and the public. “For instance, I told them about the DNA evidence because it put the fugitives in our area. The media was tossing around other theories of investigation, but the DNA evidence put that to rest,” he explained.

Receiving hourly requests for statements from the media, Wylie sought counsel on an aspect of his job that was new to him. “I talked to Bill Fitzpatrick, the long-time DA in Onondaga County and former Westchester County DA Jeanine Pirro. They gave me some advice that I followed. They told me to be prepared, lis- ten to the questions and don’t ad lib.”

Wylie is confident that the advice served him well. “I learned to be careful about what I said because one interview could lead to five more. Each reporter would call to confirm what they heard me say on someone else’s report. That got frustrating quickly,” he added.

Lessons Learned

The now-seasoned Wylie is better prepared to take on emergency situations that come with national media attention in the future and his office learned a few things to use next time around.

After the first week of the manhunt, commu- nications with the investigating agencies were streamlined through one point of contact at the State Police. That change eliminated the possibility of duplicating tasks, making the subpoena process more efficient.

Additional efficiencies were created by developing an emergency contact database. Emergency subpoenas can now be rushed directly to the proper contact person at each telephone company and financial institu- tion. “It took extra time to track down the right contact for each subpoena, and some subpoenas had to be resent multiple times. Now we have a collection of emergency contacts for each institution,” explained Livermore.

Livermore also suggested that in the next cri- sis, the support staff will be called in right away. The DA attempted to minimize over- time the first weekend of the manhunt, but quickly learned more hands were needed. “We’ve never had to use that much overtime in a single calendar year, but the information we were providing was crucial to the man- hunt,” Wylie said.

Lessons learned for the next time the North Country faces a crisis situation.