The warden at the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein took his own life over the weekend was removed Tuesday and two guards who were supposed to be watching the financier were placed on leave while federal authorities investigate the death.
The move by the Justice Department came amid mounting evidence that the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center bungled its responsibility to keep the 66-year-old Epstein from harming himself while he awaited trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.
Epstein was taken off a suicide watch last month for reasons that have not been explained, and was supposed to have been checked on by a guard every 30 minutes. But investigators learned those checks weren’t done for several hours before he was found Saturday morning, according to a person familiar with the case who was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Guards on the unit are now suspected of falsifying log entries to show they were making the checks, according to another person familiar with the investigation.
Surveillance video reviewed after the death showed guards never made some of the checks noted in the log, according to the person, who also wasn’t authorized to disclose information and spoke to the Associated Press on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Atty. Gen. William Barr ordered warden Lamine N’Diaye temporarily assigned to the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office while the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general investigate. The two guards were not identified.
While the exact manner of Epstein’s death has not been officially announced, another person familiar with operations at the jail said the financier was discovered in his cell with a bedsheet around his neck. That person likewise spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
Under the jail’s protocol, Epstein would not have been given a bedsheet had he been on suicide watch. He was placed on suicide watch last month after he was found on the floor of his cell with bruises on his neck, but he was later returned to the jail’s special housing unit for inmates needing close supervision.
The Bureau of Prisons sent a team of prison psychologists, known as a suicide reconstruction team, to the jail on Tuesday, a Justice Department official said. They are expected to reconstruct the scene, analyze why Epstein took his own life and look at how it happened, the official said. The official couldn’t discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said Deputy Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Rosen was being briefed by the FBI every three hours on the progress of their investigation.
On Monday, Barr said that he was “frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner.” He added: “We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”
The Justice Department said the warden of another facility in upstate New York had been named the acting warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
One of Epstein’s guards the night he died was not a regular correctional officer, one of those familiar with the case said.
Serene Gregg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, told the Washington Post that one of the guards was a fill-in who had been pressed into service because of staffing shortages.
Epstein was being held without bail, awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges that could have brought 45 years in prison.
An autopsy was performed Sunday, but the city’s chief medical examiner said investigators were awaiting further information.
Federal prosecutors in New York are pursuing a parallel investigation into whether any associates of Epstein will face charges for assisting him in what authorities say was his rampant sexual abuse of teenage girls.
Barr warned that any co-conspirator in the sex crimes case against Epstein “should not rest easy,” adding: “The victims deserve justice, and they will get it.”
Authorities are most likely turning their attention to the team of recruiters and employees who, according to police reports, FBI records and court documents, knew about Epstein’s penchant for teenage girls and lined up victims for him.