Misconduct by federal jail guards led to Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, Justice Department watchdog says
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s watchdog says negligence, misconduct and job failures enabled Jeffrey Epstein to take his own life at a federal jail in New York City while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Tuesday cited the federal Bureau of Prisons’ failure to assign Epstein a cellmate, problems with surveillance cameras and surplus bed linens in Epstein’s cell despite a previous suicide attempt as factors in his 2019 death. Horowitz says there’s no indication of foul play, reiterating the findings of other investigations. The Bureau of Prisons says it accepts Horowitz’s recommendations and has updated its suicide watch process.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jeffrey Epstein, despite his high profile and a jail suicide attempt two weeks earlier, was left alone in his cell with a surplus of bed linens. Nearly all the surveillance cameras on his unit didn’t record. One worker was on duty for 24 hours straight.
The Justice Department’s watchdog said Tuesday that negligence, misconduct and poor job performance by the federal Bureau of Prisons and workers at the New York City jail enabled Epstein to take his own life in August 2019.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz, saying he found no evidence of foul play, blamed numerous factors for Epstein’s death, including the jail’s failure to assign him a cellmate and overworked guards who lied on logs after failing to make regular checks. Had the guards done so, Horowitz said, they would’ve found Epstein had excess linens, which he used in his suicide.
“The combination of negligence, misconduct and outright job performance failures documented in the report all contributed to an environment in which arguably one of the most notorious inmates in BOP’s custody was provided with the opportunity to take his own life,” Horowitz wrote in a report detailing his findings.
Horowitz’s investigation, the last of several official inquiries into Epstein’s death, echoed previous findings that some members of the jail staff involved in guarding Epstein were overworked. He identified 13 employees with poor performance and recommended charges against four workers. Only the two workers assigned to guard Epstein the night he died were charged, avoiding jail time in a plea deal after admitting to falsifying logs.
Horowitz’s report highlighted some of the many problems plaguing the Bureau of Prisons, many of which have been exposed by The Associated Press. The agency, the Justice Department’s largest with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of about $8 billion, is plagued by severe staffing shortages, staff sexual abuse and criminal conduct, among other issues,
The Bureau of Prisons said it has accepted all eight of Horowitz’s recommendations, has updated its suicide watch process and will apply other lessons learned “to the broader BOP correctional landscape.”
The agency said it will review video to ensure correctional officers are making the proper rounds and will require more paperwork when prisoners are kept alone in cells. A warden must now be notified when someone is placed on suicide watch, the agency said. It is also requiring specialized training on suicide prevention.
“We make every effort to create a controlled environment within our facilities that is both secure and humane, prioritizing the physical and emotional well-being of those in our care and custody,” the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.
Horowitz’s report comes nearly four years after Epstein took his own life at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhttan while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. It also comes weeks after the AP obtained thousands of pages of records detailing the wealthy financier’s detention and death and its chaotic aftermath.
Horowitz’s investigators found no evidence to suggest anything other than suicide, echoing the findings of New York City’s medical examiner’s office, which determined Epstein killed himself, and a separate FBI investigation that found no crimes associated with the death.
No physical evidence supported any of the many conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein’s death, Horowitz concluded, and none of the video captured from the cameras that were recording showed any indication of anyone else in the cell. Investigators probed for possible money changing hands involving guards but found no evidence of that, either.
The workers assigned to guard Epstein were sleeping and shopping online instead of checking on him every 30 minutes as required, prosecutors said.
Nova Noel and Michael Thomas admitted lying on prison records to make it seem as though they had made the checks but avoided prison time under a deal with prosecutors. They left the Bureau of Prisons in April 2022, agency spokesperson Benjamin O’Cone said.
It’s the second time in six months that Horowitz has blamed a high-profile inmate’s death on the Bureau of Prisons’ failings. In December, the inspector general found that management failures, flawed policies and widespread incompetence were factors in notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s 2018 beating death at a troubled West Virginia prison.
The AP obtained more than 4,000 pages of documents related to Epstein’s death from the federal Bureau of Prisons under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents, including a reconstruction of events leading to Epstein’s suicide, internal reports, emails, memos and other records, underscored how short staffing and corner-cutting contributed to Epstein’s death.
Epstein spent 36 days at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center. Two weeks before his death, he was placed on suicide watch for 31 hours after what jail officials said was a suicide attempt that left his neck bruised and scraped.
The workers tasked with guarding Epstein the night he died were working overtime. One of them, not normally assigned to guard prisoners, was working a fifth straight day of overtime. The other was working mandatory overtime, which meant a second eight-hour shift in one day.
In addition, Epstein’s cellmate did not return after a court hearing the day before, and jail officials failed to pair another prisoner with him, leaving him alone.
Sisak reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
For more stories across the U.S., click here.