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Incident at Lake Titus

June 27, 2015

Friends, join us in a critical thinking exercise. Let’s analyze things. Let’s do it together.

As we do, we need to catch ourselves whenever we stray from verifiable reality. Yes, that’s a tall order. Just ask Wittgenstein. But we can try.

Start with the basic facts. There was a pair of escaped cons.  Hundreds of law enforcement officers were looking for them. It was and is a massive manhunt. One of the cons is now dead; the other supposedly on the run in the same area where the first was discovered. It turns out that they hadn’t traveled far in three weeks – just 20 miles from the prison. They were hiding in a cabin in the woods.

Reality check: Everything we’ve said so far comports exactly to what the authorities have said and what reputable media outlets have reported. It’s also believable.  We’ve now introduced a concept to this analysis that is pretty subjective. What’s believable? We’ll have to think about that as we proceed. Suffice to say, though, that not everything authorities say and the media reports is believable.

Back to the apparent facts. One of the cons is dead, and we’re told the following story about how it happened. A local resident was towing his camper down the road when he heard a loud noise. He continued down the road another eight miles and stopped and looked at his camper and found a hole. He then reported it to police. The police determined that it was a bullet hole. They then conducted a search of the area where the shot was thought to have been fired. They came upon a cabin where they smelled gunpowder smoke. Then they called in the border patrol’s tactical team, which subsequently heard a cough in the woods. The tactical team then issued a verbal command to a person hiding in the brush.  They killed the person when he didn’t respond.

Reality check: All of this comes straight from the Governor’s news conference Friday night. This is the account provided by the Governor and the State Police Superintendent.  Both men, Cuomo and D’Amico, were composed and speaking guardedly during the news conference.

So, what do we make of this situation? Well, let’s break it down. But as we do, we need to be careful of the whole True Detective thing. Despite TV portrayals, putting yourself in the mind of the criminal and figuring out what he’d do in a given situation is bogus. Think about the construct. You’re not a criminal. You can never really know what a criminal is thinking. In this regard, we’ve always wondered why this particular type of projection is so popular. Why is there such a cottage industry of putting yourself in a criminal’s shoes? Why not put yourself in Einstein’s shoes? Nobody would think to do that, but they think they can do it with a serial killer. And what are we saying? That we’ve got real insight into the defective mind, but we’re clueless when it comes to the creative mind?

Back to the given narrative. A few questions present themselves:

Why would Matt, holed up in a cabin, fire at a trailer traveling down the road?

Could troopers come upon a cabin a half hour or more later and smell gunpowder?

Why was the border patrol tactical team there?

Was it necessary to kill Matt?

Let us take the questions one by one and try to apply logic and make a running assessment of believability.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that Matt would shoot at a pickup towing a camper down the road.  That’s sure to draw attention to him at a time when he’s trying to avoid it. But maybe – breaking our injunction against projection – he was thinking that he could hijack it. Or maybe he was just addled and not thinking clearly. That’s a possibility.

Powder traces are indeed detectable for a long time after a gun is discharged, but not with the human nose. A gunpowder smell really wouldn’t linger long in a cabin. Maybe it lasts 15 minutes or so. It might last longer if the cabin were shut tight with no ventilation. But it seems unlikely that troopers, arriving at the scene a half hour or more later, would smell gunpowder smoke.  But maybe they had a dog. The dog could smell it no problem.

The presence of the border patrol tactical team is a curiosity. One would think that the border patrol would be patrolling the border. This incident occurred near Lake Titus, which is 20 miles from the prison, and 60 miles from the Canton and Massena border patrol stations. Some media accounts indicate that the tactical team was flown to the site. That could explain things – but it raises additional questions. The earliest a tactical team could arrive by helicopter, assuming the unit is on standby and ready to scramble, is an hour.  So what happened during that hour? Did the officers who searched the cabin and smelled gunpowder corner Matt? Moreover, where was the State Police SWAT team? Wasn’t it closer? Why would the State Police leading the search defer to the border patrol?

Finally, did Matt really have to be killed? This is the real point of this post. We’ve been feigning a dispassionate inquiry up until now. Fuck Matt, right? He got what he deserved, right? He’s a double killer. A dismemberer, too. So what if he drew nice pictures and liked kittens. He deserved it. One down, one to go, right? And then everyone in the North Country can sleep easier.

Alas, we really, really wanted him taken alive. Is this milk of human kindness on our part? No. Truth be told, while we’re weirdly sympathetic to frumpy Joyce Mitchell , we don’t have any sentiment for Matt. We just wanted him taken alive so he could tell us how it all went down. We were dying to hear about how he escaped with the Phillips head screwdriver that Mitchell gave him or the paint brushes that Gene Palmer gave him.  We desperately want to know who drew the damn happy face.

We won’t be hearing from Matt now.  Cuomo and D’Amico said Matt did not fire on the team that surrounded him. But he didn’t respond to their commands either, so the border patrol “took him down.” What a euphemism that is.

We can only hope that Sweat “responds to command.”

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Sullivan permalink
    June 27, 2015 5:08 PM

    So where did he get his gun? Last I tuned in here you said nobody leaves their guns in these cabins. Same with ammo.

    • June 28, 2015 11:51 AM

      Are we sure Matt had a gun?

      The authorities said he had a gun, but if they’re manipulating and/or making up part of the story, why not do so the whole way?

      Skeptical Much below points out another inconsistency in the authorities’ tale – the 20 gauge shotgun that made a “bullethole.”

      And Anonymous below has another inconsistency.

      Certainly it is in the interest of the authorities, including Governor Cuomo, to not have live prisoners retaken.

      As the cliche goes, dead men tell no tales…

  2. Skeptical Much? permalink
    June 27, 2015 6:50 PM

    You neglected to mention they ” …found a 20 gauge shotgun….” near the body, supposedly the one mssing for the cabin.I haven’t fired a gun since I was a kid, but even I can tell you a 20 gauge shotgun doesn’t make “a bullet hole.” It makes a spray pattern. I don’t believe any of the story based on that one detail that makes no sense, musch less all the other details that make no sense. I agree with your desire to want to hear his story, which we never will. I hope Sweat gets to live and tell his version.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    June 27, 2015 10:13 PM

    Matt couldn’t have fired the shot at the trailer from the cabin. The cabin, according to the AP, is 1.5 miles from the main road down a dirt road and another 40 minutes on foot into the woods. And if he didn’t fire the shot from there, how could the cops smell gun smoke in the cabin? Would he really have fired again in the cabin and drawn attention to his location? It doesn’t add up.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:44 AM

    They are now saying that he was drunk when he “squeezed off the shot” at the passing car. But rather than calling attention to himself with such behavior, would he be just blending in with so many others in the North Country?!

  5. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:46 AM

    Nobody leaves a gun they value in crappy hunting cabin in the middle of nowhere. They might leave an old shotgun.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:48 AM

    I don’t believe anything coming from” the authorities.” They are covering their asses.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:50 AM

    Not taking up the cause of the con, but if he was drunk, he might have had some difficulty “responding to command.” Ya think?

  8. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:58 AM

    I echo the comment about not feeling too sympathetic about the guy, and yet I can’t help thinking how convenient it is that he was shooting randomly at people and had a gun in his hands when he was killed. Can’t help thinking he was never going to be taken alive because he already embarrassed too many people and would have embarrassed a lot more when he explained how he did it all.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 9:30 AM

    When is somebody going to say: Fire the warden!

  10. anonymous1 permalink
    June 28, 2015 9:45 AM

    A. Yes, the bullet hole on the vehicle doesn’t match the weapon found near Matt; B. Had Matt survived, what he might have revealed would probably have harmed Cuomo, who’s already in Preet’s crosshairs, and whose “frugality” and under-funding of Dannemora enabled the prison’s only breakout ever; C. While few people leave weapons or ammo in unoccupied cabins out of hunting season, many people do keep weapons in their homes and vehicles; D. It’s quite possible for most people who KNOW what a firearm discharge smells like to ID a discharge, particularly when the discharge fumes/vapors are contained in a closed space, which extends the time most people can detect the odor; E. Watch what happens if and when authorities encounter Sweat. His history, the possibility that he’s armed, and his having little to lose will likely be used by authorities to justify what I suspect will be Sweat’s killing. To be fair, given the specifics, authorities have much to fear and thus are justified in using deadly force quickly if Sweat is encountered, but I suspect that gubernatorial interest in NOT having Sweat alive will also factor into how things play out. This storm system gives Sweat a chance, but he’s likely hypothermic, exhausted, hungry, and, now, alone, so look for this saga to have a quick close, perhaps by Monday dinnertime.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 4:04 PM

    “Took him down” with three shots to the head. One wasn’t good enough?

  12. anonymous1 permalink
    June 29, 2015 7:25 AM

    Yes, both were convicted killers, and escaped convicts with little to lose, and, yes, law enforcement has an often thankless and dangerous job. That said, the fact remains that Sweat–an unarmed man–is now in critical condition after being shot multiple times, allegedly after he refused to comply, and began to run. The distance from the border varies; in some accounts, it’s a few minutes, in others, it’s an hour’s time (I suppose it depends upon your mode of transit?) but over and over, with this case, you see Cuomo trying to appear gubernatorial, after cutting funds to a prison, resulting in less supervision, greater risk of escape and/or injury to staff and inmates, and just the kind of situation we’re seeing now. And, not to spike the football, but my prediction yesterday–Sweat dead or in custody by Monday dinnertime–came true. Now, Cuomo can only hope that Sweat is unable or unwilling to spill his guts (metaphorically) on how lax the system Cuomo neglected was. Final thought: compare how little was saved by Cuomo’s being cheap with Clinton Correctional, and then compare that with how much he spent both mounting and then publicizing a (failed) jobs program, and with how much he spent on the manhunt. Cuomo: just the latest in a long line of–for the most part–terrible governors of New York State.

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