Written by Katie Benner and Danielle Ivory
The warden of the federal jail in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself was temporarily reassigned on Tuesday, and two correctional officers who were guarding him were placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation into the death, the Justice Department said.
The warden, Lamine N’Diaye, will be transferred to a Bureau of Prison office in Philadelphia while the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general conduct investigations into Epstein’s death. The Justice Department said in a statement that it might take additional punitive actions.
The attorney general, William Barr, on Monday ordered the inspector general to look into how Epstein had managed to commit suicide 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,” he said.
Jail guards discovered Epstein, 66, dead in his cell in at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan at 6:30 a.m. on 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 commit suicide 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 he was no longer a threat to his own life and put him in a cell in the protective housing unit with another inmate, officials said. That inmate was later transferred out of the cell, leaving Epstein alone on 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 immediately replace Epstein’s cellmate.
The two staff members in the special housing unit where Epstein was held — 9 South — falsely recorded that they had checked in on him every half-hour, as required, according to a law enforcement official and a prison official. The prison official said the guards were sleeping.
They had not looked in on Epstein for about three hours before he was found, two prison officials familiar with the incident said.
In addition, one of the guards was not a regular correctional officer, but a prison employee who had been pressed into service as a guard because of a staff shortage. Both were working on overtime.
The Justice Department, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, did not immediately identify the two correctional officers who were placed on administrative leave.
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 about 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.
On Tuesday, a team of psychologists visited the Manhattan jail 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 outrage from both 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 the 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 the Bureau of Prisons hand over by Aug. 21 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. and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged Barr on Tuesday to rip up an agreement federal prosecutors in Florida had reached with Epstein in 2008 that shielded not only him, but any other co-conspirators who may have helped him lure teenage girls into prostitution.
“This crooked deal cannot stand,” Sasse said in his letter.
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