Sunday 25 August 2019

Two prison guards suspended and warden reassigned after Jeffrey Epstein's death

Financier Jeffrey Epstein (AP)
Financier Jeffrey Epstein (AP)
Dead: Jeffrey Epstein apparently died by suicide in his prison cell. Photo: Florida Department of Law Enforcement via AP, File
Jeffrey Epstein when he appeared in court (AP Photo/Palm Beach Post, Uma Sanghvi, File)
Jeffrey Epstein, left, and his attorney Martin Weinberg during court proceedings (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Jim Mustian, Michael R Sisak and Michael Balsamo

Two guards assigned to watch Jeffrey Epstein the night he apparently killed himself in jail have been placed on leave and the warden has been removed as federal authorities investigate the financier's death, the US Justice Department said.

The announcement came amid mounting evidence that the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Centre may have bungled its responsibility to keep the 66-year-old 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 were not done for several hours before he was found on Saturday morning, according to a person familiar with the case.

On Monday, Attorney General William 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 has been named the acting warden at MCC.

The FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general are investigating Epstein's death.

One of Epstein's guards the night he took his own life was not a regular correctional officer, the person 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.

The manner in which he killed himself has not been officially announced. An autopsy was performed on 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.

Mr 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."

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