War­den re­moved from jail where Ep­stein died

Jus­tice Depart­ment also sus­pends two staffers af­ter ap­par­ent sui­cide

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT, MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY AND AARON C. DAVIS

The Jus­tice Depart­ment on Tues­day re­as­signed the war­den at the de­ten­tion cen­ter in New York where Jef­frey Ep­stein ap­par­ently hanged him­self and placed on leave two staffers mon­i­tor­ing his unit at the time — a shake-up or­dered amid grow­ing com­plaints about the facility made to hold some of the coun­try’s most no­to­ri­ous sus­pects.

The Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, a high-rise hold­ing roughly 760 pris­on­ers, has been the sub­ject of in­tense scru­tiny since Ep­stein’s death while in fed­eral cus­tody last week­end. Crit­ics called the in­ci­dent em­blem­atic of a ne­glected, un­der­staffed and dys­func­tional fed­eral prison sys­tem.

The move to trans­fer Lamine N’Di­aye, who had only re­cently be­gun work­ing as the MCC’s war­den, came a day af­ter At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr de­cried “se­ri­ous ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” there and a “fail­ure” to keep Ep­stein se­cure.

On Tues­day, Barr “di­rected the Bureau of Prisons to tem­po­rar­ily as­sign” N’Di­aye to a re­gional of­fice, pend­ing the out­come of in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Ep­stein’s death, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said in a state­ment. The Bureau of Prisons de­clined to make N’Di­aye avail­able for an in­ter­view, and ef­forts to reach him sep­a­rately were not suc­cess­ful. The two staffers placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave were not iden­ti­fied.

“Ad­di­tional ac­tions may be taken as the cir­cum­stances war­rant,” the depart­ment’s state­ment said.

Barr ap­pointed James Petrucci, who has been run­ning a fed­eral prison in nearby Otisville, N.Y., as the facility’s new act­ing war­den.

The MCC is run by the Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment and falls un­der Barr’s author­ity.

Ep­stein, a 66-year-old reg­is­tered sex of­fender and mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, was found hang­ing in his cell around 6:30 a.m. Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. He was await­ing trial on sex traf­fick­ing charges when he died. Re­sults of his au­topsy are pend­ing.

Ep­stein was be­ing held in a spe­cial hous­ing unit of the MCC called Nine South and should have been checked on by the staff ev­ery 30 min­utes. But cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers had not done so for “sev­eral” hours be­fore he was found by staff as they de­liv­ered break­fast to in­mates, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Serene Gregg, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees Lo­cal 3148, which rep­re­sents the staffers, said in a text mes­sage: “I can’t con­firm if in fact any­one has been placed on leave but this is not atyp­i­cal when an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is ini­ti­ated. It’s likely be­ing done to pre­serve the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ep­stein’s death, fo­cus­ing on ap­par­ent break­downs of pol­icy at the jail in the hours be­fore staffers found him un­re­spon­sive.

On Mon­day, Barr said he “was ap­palled . . . and, frankly, an­gry” to learn of the de­ten­tion cen­ter’s “fail­ure to ad­e­quately se­cure” Ep­stein. He did not spec­ify what ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties had been found in the af­ter­math of Ep­stein’s death but vowed ac­count­abil­ity.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial said the Bureau of Prisons’s sui­cide re­con­struc­tion team, which in­cludes psy­chol­o­gists, on Tues­day be­gan at­tempt­ing to model the event, an­a­lyz­ing how and why Ep­stein was able to kill him­self. The depart­ment planned to send an “af­ter ac­tion” team on Wed­nes­day, which would per­form a broader as­sess­ment.

To those who have worked in or around the MCC, Ep­stein’s death is viewed as a symp­tom of long-term prob­lems there and, more broadly, within the Bureau of Prisons.

Robert Hood, a for­mer chief of in­ter­nal af­fairs for the bureau, said the MCC has had long­time prob­lems with over­crowd­ing and un­der­staffing. But in re­cent years, he said, the bureau has been af­flicted by a lack of lead­er­ship, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of se­nior po­si­tions filled by tem­po­rary ap­point­ments.

“A third of the lead­er­ship isn’t re­ally home, and that means peo­ple are look­ing for lead­er­ship and ac­count­abil­ity, and there’s a morale is­sue,” Hood said. “The sys­tem is in cri­sis mode.”

Bruce Barket, a lawyer who rep­re­sents a for­mer cell­mate of Ep­stein’s, said an over­haul of the MCC is years over­due.

“There are in­di­vid­ual guards who work hard and do a good job, but the cul­ture there is a bad com­bi­na­tion of lazy and cruel,” said Barket, who de­scribed the con­crete jail as in­fested with in­sects and ro­dents, chron­i­cally un­der­staffed and com­i­cally in­ef­fi­cient.

Some­times, in­com­pe­tence in the build­ing reaches alarm­ing pro­por­tions, ob­servers said. In May 2017, for in­stance, a bank rob­ber named David Evan­ge­lista was ac­ci­den­tally re­leased from the MCC, even af­ter he told staff he still had years left on his sen­tence, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

Dur­ing roughly six hours of free­dom, Evan­ge­lista called his lawyer seek­ing ad­vice, and the lawyer, David Wik­strom, told him to get back to the jail, these peo­ple said. Evan­ge­lista re­turned and was ul­ti­mately trans­ferred to a dif­fer­ent fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ter. Wik­strom de­clined to com­ment on the in­ci­dent, which was first reported by Gang­land News.

The MCC has had other re­cur­ring se­cu­rity gaps. In June, prose­cu­tors ac­cused for­mer CIA em­ployee Joshua Adam Shulte of smug­gling cell­phones into the jail so that he could wage an “in­for­ma­tion war” against the gov­ern­ment as he con­tin­ues to fight charges that he il­le­gally trans­mit­ted na­tional de­fense se­crets.

Still, the MCC is con­sid­ered one of the safest and most se­cure lock­ups in the fed­eral sys­tem. When Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Lo­era, the drug kingpin bet­ter known as “El Chapo,” was brought to New York, he was jailed there be­cause it was con­sid­ered more se­cure than the fed­eral lockup close to the Brook­lyn courthouse where he was ul­ti­mately con­victed.

The MCC’s prob­lems with un­der­staffing and a lack of re­sources are not unique to the facility, nor is Ep­stein’s the first death in fed­eral cus­tody to be blamed on such de­fi­cien­cies.

Last year, Bos­ton’s most in­fa­mous gang­ster, James “Whitey” Bul­ger, was beaten to death by in­mates in a fed­eral prison in West Vir­ginia. While at least two peo­ple were im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied as sus­pects, no one has been charged.

Bul­ger’s lawyer, Hank Bren­nan, said the Ep­stein and Bul­ger cases “ap­pear unique be­cause we usu­ally only hear about the high-pro­file cases. This isn’t unique; it’s an epi­demic. It’s us­ing in­dif­fer­ence as a tool against peo­ple, and it’s be­yond neg­li­gent by the Bureau of Prisons and who­ever is con­trol­ling them.”

E.O. Young, na­tional pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil of Prison Lo­cals C-33, said Tues­day that the MCC faced sig­nif­i­cant staffing short­ages due in part to a hir­ing freeze that had been im­ple­mented by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Un­der Trump, the Bureau of Prisons has ex­pe­ri­enced the sec­ond-most-dra­matic drop in the num­ber of per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees of any depart­ment in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, be­hind the IRS. The prison sys­tem saw a net loss of nearly 4,300 em­ploy­ees, or 11 per­cent of its pay­roll, in the first 20 months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the most re­cent time pe­riod in which num­bers are pub­licly avail­able.

Be­cause the facility is in down­town Man­hat­tan, where the cost of liv­ing is high, it is seen as an unattrac­tive post for prospec­tive of­fi­cers, and va­can­cies are hard to fill, Young said.

Young said he and other union of­fi­cials re­cently per­suaded man­age­ment to im­ple­ment two in­cen­tive pro­grams of­fer­ing bonuses for those who trans­ferred to the MCC or put off re­tire­ment. But the facility re­mains short-staffed, lead­ing of­fi­cers to work mas­sive amounts of over­time and man­age­ment hav­ing to as­sign peo­ple nor­mally in other roles to of­fi­cer duty, Young said.

Those fac­tors were both at play the night of Ep­stein’s death, a lo­cal union of­fi­cial told The Washington Post over the week­end. The two of­fi­cers as­signed to watch Ep­stein’s unit were both on over­time — one forced, the other for the fourth or fifth time that week, union of­fi­cials said. One did not nor­mally work as a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer, though a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said the per­son had worked in that role for about seven years be­fore tak­ing a higher-pay­ing job five years ago.

Young praised the at­tor­ney gen­eral for ac­knowl­edg­ing staffing short­ages at the Bureau of Prisons and for lift­ing the hir­ing freeze in re­cent months, but he said it was “ir­re­spon­si­ble” for Barr to blame prison of­fi­cials be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was com­plete.

Fed­eral records show N’Di­aye, the war­den who was re­as­signed Tues­day, was at least the fifth per­son to lead the MCC in five years, and his work his­tory — which in­cludes time as the MCC’s head of cor­rec­tional ser­vices and, later, as re­gional spokesman for the fed­eral prison sys­tem — ap­peared to con­trast with that of oth­ers who have held the high-pres­sure job.

Un­til five years ago, the path to the job of war­den there at the MCC was more struc­tured, with can­di­dates hav­ing to first prove them­selves as as­so­ciate war­dens at two or more other fed­eral prisons, said Catherine Li­naweaver, who re­tired as war­den of the MCC in 2014. Li­naweaver said the de­mands there were known to be unique and dif­fi­cult for war­dens, as one of the few pre­trial fa­cil­i­ties in the fed­eral prison sys­tem.

“You have hun­dreds of in­mates, each in some phase of pre­sent­ing their de­fense, com­ing and go­ing from the facility,” she said. “If one claimed he was be­ing mis­treated, it was not un­com­mon to have a judge call me up and ask what’s go­ing on.”

Li­naweaver, who be­gan her ca­reer in cor­rec­tions as a teacher, said that as the MCC’s war­den she never ap­proved non-of­fi­cers ro­tat­ing into the spe­cial hous­ing unit where Ep­stein was held, in part be­cause it was pro­to­col to cuff de­tainees when trans­fer­ring them.

“It’s like any­thing. If you’re not do­ing it ev­ery day, you get rusty. You want guards prac­ticed in the tac­tile side of cor­rec­tions,” she said. “There are cer­tain posts you do not pull your guards, and your spe­cial hous­ing unit is one. You can’t take short­cuts with those peo­ple, or bad things hap­pen.”

JEENAH MOON/REUTERS

An ex­te­rior view of the Metropoli­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in New York. To those who have worked in or around the MCC, Jef­frey Ep­stein’s death is viewed as a symp­tom of long-term prob­lems at the facility.

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