Source: Epstein guard a fill-in
Substitute who was not a correctional officer was pressed into service because of staffing shortfall, source claims.
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.