Source: Ep­stein guard a fill-in

Sub­sti­tute who was not a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer was pressed into ser­vice be­cause of staffing short­fall, source claims.

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM MUSTIAN, MICHAEL R. SISAK AND MICHAEL BALSAMO

NEW YORK — One of Jef­frey Ep­stein’s two guards the night he hanged him­self in his fed­eral jail cell wasn’t a reg­u­lar cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­ten­tion cen­ter, which is now un­der scru­tiny for what At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr on Mon­day called “se­ri­ous irregulari­ties.”

Ep­stein, 66, was found Satur­day morn­ing in his cell at the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, a jail pre­vi­ously renowned for its abil­ity to hold no­to­ri­ous pris­on­ers un­der ex­tremely tight se­cu­rity.

“I was ap­palled, and in­deed the whole de­part­ment was, and frankly an­gry to learn of the MCC’S fail­ure to ad­e­quately se­cure this pris­oner,” Barr said at a po­lice con­fer­ence in New Or­leans. “We are now learn­ing of se­ri­ous irregulari­ties at this fa­cil­ity that are deeply con­cern­ing and de­mand a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The FBI and the of­fice of in­spec­tor gen­eral are do­ing just that.”

He added: “We will get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened and there will be ac­count­abil­ity.”

In the days since Ep­stein’s death while await­ing charges that he sex­u­ally abused un­der­age girls, a por­trait has be­gun to emerge of Man­hat­tan’s fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ter as a chron­i­cally un­der­staffed fa­cil­ity that pos­si­bly made a se­ries of mis­steps in han­dling its most high-pro­file in­mate.

Ep­stein had been placed on sui­cide watch af­ter he was found in his cell a little over two weeks ago with bruises on his neck. But he had been taken off that watch at the end of July and re­turned to the jail’s spe­cial hous­ing unit.

There, Ep­stein was sup­posed to have been checked on by a guard about ev­ery 30 min­utes. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors have learned those checks weren’t done for sev­eral hours be­fore Ep­stein was found un­re­spon­sive, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the episode. That per­son was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and also spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

A sec­ond per­son fa­mil­iar with oper­a­tions at the jail said Ep­stein was found with a bed­sheet around his neck Satur­day morn­ing. That per­son also wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­close in­for­ma­tion about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Serene Gregg, president of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees Lo­cal 3148, told The Wash­ing­ton Post that one of the peo­ple as­signed to Ep­stein’s unit wasn’t a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, but a fill-in who had been pressed into ser­vice be­cause of staffing short­falls.

It wasn’t clear what the sub­sti­tute’s reg­u­lar job was, but fed­eral pris­ons fac­ing short­ages of fully trained guards have re­sorted to hav­ing other types of sup­port staff fill in for cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing cler­i­cal work­ers and teach­ers.

The man­ner in which Ep­stein killed him­self has not been an­nounced pub­licly by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. An au­topsy was per­formed Sun­day, but New York City Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Dr. Bar­bara Samp­son said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were await­ing fur­ther in­for­ma­tion. A pri­vate pathol­o­gist, Dr. Michael Baden, ob­served the au­topsy at the re­quest of Ep­stein’s lawyers.

The As­so­ci­ated Press does not typ­i­cally report on de­tails of sui­cide, but has made an ex­cep­tion be­cause Ep­stein’s cause of death is per­ti­nent to the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee de­manded an­swers from the Bureau of Pris­ons about Ep­stein’s death. Com­mit­tee chair­man Jer­rold Nadler, a Demo­crat, and the panel’s top Repub­li­can, Ge­or­gia Rep. Doug Collins, wrote the bureau’s act­ing direc­tor Mon­day with sev­eral ques­tions about the con­di­tions in the prison, in­clud­ing de­tails on the bureau’s sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­gram.

In­mates on sui­cide watch in fed­eral jails are sub­jected to 24 hours per day of “di­rect, con­tin­u­ous ob­ser­va­tion,” ac­cord­ing to U.S. Bureau of Pris­ons pol­icy. They are also is­sued tear-re­sis­tant cloth­ing to thwart at­tempts to fash­ion nooses and are placed in cells that are stripped of fur­ni­ture or fix­tures they could use to kill them­selves.

Those watches, though, gen­er­ally last only 72 hours be­fore some­one is ei­ther moved into a med­i­cal fa­cil­ity or put back into less in­ten­sive mon­i­tor­ing.

The jail does have a video sur­veil­lance sys­tem, but fed­eral stan­dards don’t al­low the use of cameras to mon­i­tor ar­eas where pris­on­ers are likely to be un­dressed un­less those cameras are mon­i­tored only by staff mem­bers of the same gen­der as the in­mates. As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, that means most fed­eral jails na­tion­wide fo­cus cameras on com­mon ar­eas, rather than cell bunks.

Lind­say Hayes, a na­tion­ally recognized ex­pert on sui­cide pre­ven­tion behind bars, said that cameras are of­ten in­ef­fec­tive be­cause they re­quire a staff mem­ber to be ded­i­cated full time to mon­i­tor­ing the video feed 24 hours a day. “It only takes three to five min­utes for some­one to hang them­selves,” said Hayes, a project direc­tor for the Na­tional Cen­ter on In­sti­tu­tions and Al­ter­na­tives.

EP­STEIN

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