Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

Monday June 4, 2001

Southport inmate Joel O'Keefe to be charged with attempted escape

Inmate Joel O'Keefe learned today that a Correction Officer with a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson hand gun trumps an attempted escapee's display of a water pistol.

O'Keefe, who escaped from police near Ballston Spa in 1994 and twice tried to escape from state prison last year, will again face criminal charges of attempted escape after today's incident as he was being returned by van to Southport Correctional Facility after a medical trip to Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira.

At 8:15 a.m., O'Keefe was placed in full restraints at Southport and transported by three security staff in a state van to nearby Arnot Ogden, where he was scheduled to undergo X-rays. He was restrained with a waist chain, two pairs of handcuffs and leg irons.

The inmate had been searched by staff prior to his departure and they did not detect any contraband on his person. O'Keefe was physically observed by security staff throughout his entire 30-minute hospital visit. He left Arnot Ogden under armed guard at 9:20 a.m. to be returned to Southport, located near Elmira.

During the trip back, a Sergeant was driving the van with an Officer beside him. Behind them was a plexiglass and security screen divider separating them from the back of the van. O'Keefe was seated to the rear of the divider. A second Officer was seated behind O'Keefe.

Just after the van had crossed the Walnut Street bridge and was only a few minutes from returning to Southport at approximately 9:30 a.m., O'Keefe - still in full restraints - pointed what appeared to be a gun at the back of the head of the Sergeant. The inmate ordered the Sergeant to drop his sidearm and to pull the van over to the side of the road. The Sergeant refused and continued driving toward the facility.

The Officer in the back of the van behind O'Keefe stood up. O'Keefe turned and pointed his weapon at that Officer. The inmate ordered the Officer to sit back down, and the Officer complied. That slight diversion provided the armed Officer up front next to the Sergeant with time to unholster his loaded weapon and aim it at O'Keefe.

O'Keefe turned to face the front of the van and again pointed the weapon toward the Sergeant's head. The Officer, his weapon now trained on O'Keefe, ordered the inmate to drop his weapon - or risk being shot.

After initially refusing, O'Keefe dropped the weapon. It was retrieved by the Officer assigned to the back of the van. The weapon turned out to be a plastic toy pistol that had been dyed black and resembled a Glock.

There were no injuries to staff and O'Keefe was immediately returned to Southport without further incident. Investigations are currently being conducted by this Department's Office of the Inspector General and the Division of State Police. The inmate faces attempted escape and other criminal charges, as well as additional disciplinary sanctions at the facility level.

It is not yet known how O'Keefe obtained the plastic weapon or how he was able to hide it on his person until he was headed back to the facility. The crude plastic weapon consisted of a 4½-inch black barrel and accompanying slide mechanism that was about an inch thick. It also included a fake collapsible trigger.

O'Keefe, 41, currently is serving a 13-to-26-year sentence for five separate convictions. In 1994, he received a 10-to-20-year sentence for a third-degree criminal possession of a weapon conviction out of Washington County, a first-degree burglary conviction out of Saratoga County and a first-degree escape conviction out of Saratoga County.

Today's incident was O'Keefe's third attempt to escape from prison. On the morning of Sept. 6, 2000, while O'Keefe was assigned to the Clinton Correctional Facility, an Officer noticed a suspicious-looking bag among a group of unattended bags laying on the floor by the mess hall. The Officer then waited to see who claimed the bag. O'Keefe picked it up at 7:42 a.m. as he was exiting the mess hall and heading toward his work assignment in the facility tailor shop.

The Officer ordered O'Keefe to surrender his bag, and he complied without incident. A search of the bag revealed a plywood grappling hook measuring approximately 14 inches in length and eight inches in width. The plywood hook was attached to a hand-woven cloth rope that was almost 25 feet in length. A subsequent search of O'Keefe's work area in the tailor shop revealed an additional three pieces of cloth which were tied together to fashion a crude eight-foot-long rope. The materials were discovered under O'Keefe's desk in the tailor shop.

Less than two weeks earlier, Clinton officials had denied, for security reasons, O'Keefe's request to attend his father's funeral. After being caught with the escape items, O'Keefe told authorities that he was going to attempt an escape because he was "despondent" over not being permitted to attend his father's funeral.

Then, on Oct. 11, 2000, O'Keefe was found to be in possession of a piece of white plastic that had been fashioned into a lock-pick type instrument. A Clinton Officer discovered the piece of plastic in O'Keefe's mouth as he was being processed for an outside court trip. He was again charged by the Department with attempted escape and possession of escape items.

Earlier this year, O'Keefe was found guilty in Clinton County Court of first-degree attempted escape and promoting prison contraband in the first degree. He was sentenced to an additional 3-to-6-year sentence, to run consecutive with his initial sentence.

In addition to the increased prison time, O'Keefe received seven years of Special Housing Unit (SHU) time and loss of package, commissary and telephone privileges for a corresponding period in conjunction with the previous two aborted escape attempts. O'Keefe, who will be in SHU status until at least Sept. 6, 2007, also lost seven years of good time.

O'Keefe has been housed in SHU status at Southport since an Oct. 20, 2000, transfer from Clinton. He was received into the state prison system on Feb 23, 1995, and is not eligible for parole until 2007. O'Keefe currently has a conditional release date of Nov. 25, 2011, and his maximum term expires July 25, 2020. Those computations will change should he receive additional prison time and a corresponding loss of good time relative to today's incident.