NEW YORK >> The two guards who were in the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, then falsified records to cover up their mistake, a law enforcement official and a prison official said today.
Those disclosures came as the two guards were placed on administrative leave and the warden of the jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, was temporarily reassigned, pending the outcome of the investigation into Epstein’s death, the Justice Department announced.
The two correctional officers in the special housing unit where Epstein was held — 9 South — falsely recorded in a log that they had checked on the financier, who was facing sex trafficking charges, every 30 minutes, as was required, the officials said. Such false entries in an official log could constitute a federal crime.
In fact, the guards had been asleep for some or all of the three hours, the officials said.
The attorney general, William Barr, on Monday ordered the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into how Epstein had managed to kill himself while in custody and why he had been taken off a suicide watch 12 days earlier.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” Barr said.
The warden, Lamine N’Diaye, will be transferred to a Bureau of Prisons office in Philadelphia while the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general conduct inquiries. The Justice Department said in a statement that it might take additional punitive actions.
The guards discovered Epstein, 66, dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, officials said. He had apparently hanged himself with a bedsheet, likely fastening the sheet to a top bunk and pitching himself forward, law enforcement and prison officials said.
Epstein had been awaiting trial on charges he had sexually abused scores of teenage girls at his mansions in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.
He had apparently tried to kill himself once before, on July 23, shortly after he was denied bail, which resulted in him being placed on suicide watch, prison officials familiar with the incident have said.
Six days later, prison officials determined that he was no longer a threat to his own life and returned him to a cell in the 9 South housing unit with another inmate, officials said. That inmate was later transferred out of the cell, leaving Epstein alone Friday night.
Though it is standard practice to house people who have recently been taken off suicide watch with another person, the prison did not replace Epstein’s cellmate.
The Justice Department, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, did not immediately identify the two correctional officers who were placed on administrative leave.
Two prison officials familiar with the incident said the two guards had not looked in on Epstein for about three hours before he was found.
One of the guards was a former correctional officer who had taken a different position at the detention center that did not involve overseeing detainees. He had been pressed into service again as a guard because of a staff shortage and was working overtime, a law enforcement official and an employee at the jail said.
The second officer, a woman who was assigned to that wing, had been ordered to work overtime because the jail was short staffed.
James Petrucci, the warden at a federal prison in Otisville, New York, has been named acting warden of the Manhattan jail, officials said.
Some union leaders for prison workers expressed dismay with Barr’s decision to allow the warden to continue working, even as the two staff members were placed on leave.
“It makes me angry that they reassigned the warden,” said Jose Rojas, an official in the prison employees’ union and a teacher at the Coleman prison complex in Sumterville, Florida. “They didn’t put him on administrative leave like the others. The warden made the call to take Epstein off suicide watch and to remove his cellmate. That is egregious.”
Since Saturday, Barr has been briefed multiple times a day on the inquiries into Epstein’s death, a Justice Department official said.
In addition to the investigations by the Justice Department, the inspector general and the FBI, two other reviews of Epstein’s death were underway, a Justice Department official said.
A team of psychologists from the Bureau of Prisons visited the Manhattan jail today to review each step of the decision to take Epstein off suicide watch.
On Wednesday, an “after-action team” — led by the bureau’s Southeast regional director — is scheduled to be at the prison to determine whether employees and officials followed protocols in the days and weeks before Epstein died, the official said.
Epstein’s death has drawn sharp criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
On Monday, the chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, Hugh Hurwitz, demanding answers about how Epstein could have been unsupervised long enough to take his own life.
The letter said Epstein’s apparent suicide had brought to light “severe miscarriages” or deficiencies in how inmates are managed at the jail and had “allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice.”
It was signed by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Doug Collins, R-Ga..
Nadler and Collins demanded that the Bureau of Prisons hand over by Aug. 21 any details about Epstein’s mental health evaluations and his housing, as well as the bureau’s protocols for handling inmates considered at risk of suicide.
They also requested to be told how Epstein was being monitored and what the surveillance cameras may have recorded in or near Epstein’s cell.
At the same time, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged Barr today to rip up an agreement federal prosecutors in Florida had reached with Epstein in 2008 that shielded not only him, but also any other co-conspirators who may have helped him lure teenage girls into prostitution.
“This crooked deal cannot stand,” Sasse said in his letter.