The Washington Post - 22.08.2019

(Joyce) #1

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22 , 2019. THE WASHINGTON POST EZ RE A


BY DEVLIN BARRETT

At least eight Bureau of Prisons
staffers knew that strict instruc-
tions had been given not to leave
multimillionaire sex offender Jef-
frey Epstein alone in his cell, yet the
order was apparently ignored in the
24 hours leading up to his death,
according to people familiar with
the matter.
The fact that so many prison
officials were aware of the directive
— not just low-level correctional
officers, but supervisors and man-
agers — has alarmed investigators
assessing what so far appears to be
a stunning failure to follow instruc-
tions, these people said. Like oth-
ers, they spoke on the condition of
anonymity to discuss ongoing in-
vestigations. They declined to iden-
tify the eight.
Investigators suspect that at
least some of these individuals also
knew Epstein had been left alone in
a cell before he died, and they are
working to determine the extent of
such knowledge, these people said,
cautioning that the apparent disre-
gard for the instruction does not
necessarily mean there was crimi-
nal conduct. The explanation, they
said, could be simpler and sadder —
bureaucratic incompetence span-
ning multiple individuals and
ranks within the organization.
The Bureau of Prisons declined
to comment.
“It’s perplexing,” said Robert
Hood, a former warden at the feder-
al Supermax prison in Florence,
Colo. “If people were given instruc-
tions that Epstein should not be left
alone, I don’t understand how they
were not followed.”
Hood, who also once served as
the Bureau of Prisons’ chief of inter-
nal affairs, said it was disconcerting
that officials might have thought
they were putting Epstein on a less-
intensive form of suicide watch.
“You’re either on suicide watch
or you’re not. If you have any con-
cern at all, you maintain the suicide
watch,” he said.
Epstein, 66, was found dead in
his cell at the Metropolitan Correc-
tional Center during the early


morning of Aug. 10. He had been
held at the facility in Lower Man-
hattan for more than a month on
sex trafficking charges that could
have led to a prison sentence of as
much as 45 years. He had pleaded
not guilty, and the case was due to
go to trial next year.
Epstein hanged himself using a
bedsheet fastened to his bunk bed,
according to a person familiar with
the investigation. New York City’s
medical examiner has ruled the
death a suicide — a finding not
accepted by Epstein’s lawyers, who
said they are conducting their own
investigation.
The death has prompted investi-
gations and a leadership overhaul
at the Bureau of Prisons, the federal
agency that runs the jail. On Mon-
day, Attorney General William P.
Barr named Kathleen Hawk Saw-
yer its new director, having re-
placed the detention center’s war-
den days earlier.
The circumstances surrounding
Epstein’s death are being investi-
gated by the FBI and the Justice
Department’s inspector general.

Speaking Wednesday at an unre-
lated event in Dallas, Barr said that
the investigation is “well along,”
adding, “I think I’ll soon be in a
position to report to Congress and
the public the results.”
Barr said there had been some
delays in the investigation “because
a number of the witnesses were not
cooperative. A number of them re-
quired having union representa-
tives and lawyers.” He also said
there were “serious irregularities at
the center. At the same time I have
seen nothing that undercuts the
finding of the medical examiner
that this was a suicide.”
The investigations already have
found a troubling lack of follow-
through by Bureau of Prisons per-
sonnel after a July 23 incident in
which Epstein may have tried to kill
himself, according to people famil-
iar with them.
In that incident, guards rushed
to Epstein’s cell when his cellmate
at the time, Nicholas Tartaglione,
began yelling, according to these
people. Tartaglione told officers he
had noticed Epstein with a bed-

sheet around his neck and ap-
peared to be trying to kill himself,
the people said.
Epstein denied that, they said,
and told prison staff that he had
been attacked — something Tarta-
glione denied.
Some MCC staff doubted Ep-
stein’s claim he was attacked, sus-
pecting he either faked a suicide
attempt or intended to take his own
life, the people familiar said.
Epstein was placed on suicide
watch, but officials lifted those
measures six days later, on July 29.
On that day, MCC officials returned
Epstein to a special housing unit
known as Nine South — where offi-
cers were directed to check on him
in his cell every 30 minutes. The
other explicit condition of his re-
moval from suicide watch was that
Epstein would not be left alone in a
cell, these people said.
That instruction was spelled out
widely within the chain of com-
mand, people familiar with the
matter said, and one of the issues
investigators are trying to under-
stand better is how so many people

could have known of the instruc-
tion and still failed to enforce it.
Upon his return to the special
housing unit, Epstein was placed in
a cell with a suspect other than Tart-
aglione, according to people famil-
iar with the case. Authorities have
not identified that individual, who
was moved out of the cell Aug 9. By
the next morning, Epstein was dead.
Investigators are examining ex-
actly why that cellmate was relocat-
ed, people familiar with the matter
said, and why detention center staff
failed for several hours to make the
required checks on Epstein every
30 minutes. He was found about
6:30 a.m. as breakfast was being
delivered to inmates.
The head of the local union that
represents MCC staffers did not re-
spond to requests for comment. An
FBI spokesman and a spokesman
for the U.S. attorney in Manhattan
declined to comment.
The death of such a high-profile
defendant has brought intense
scrutiny to the Justice Department
generally and the Bureau of Prisons
specifically. Union officials have

said such a suicide was inevitable,
given long-term shortstaffing at the
MCC and throughout the bureau, a
situation that has led to employees
working extensive overtime.
The two staffers assigned to
check on Epstein the morning he
died were both working overtime —
one forced to do so by management,
the other for his fourth or fifth
consecutive day, the president of
the local union has previously said.
Epstein’s death has sparked re-
newed criticism of the Justice De-
partment from lawmakers and oth-
ers who have accused officials of not
taking the Epstein case seriously.
Epstein was arrested July 6 after
landing at New Jersey’s Teterboro
Airport. The sex trafficking charges
filed in New York involved dozens
of girls and alleged incidents span-
ning 2002 to 2005.
In 2008, he pleaded guilty in
Florida to state charges based on
similar conduct, as part of an agree-
ment with federal prosecutors that
has been widely criticized as too
lenient. That deal allowed Epstein
to avoid being accused of federal
crimes, and he ultimately spent 13
months in jail with flexible
work-release privileges.
Its terms were approved by Alex
Acosta, who was then the U.S. attor-
ney in Miami. Acosta served as
President Trump’s labor secretary,
though he resigned from that post
July 12 after Epstein’s arrest raised
new scrutiny of Acosta’s handling
of the previous case.
Meanwhile, the federal judge
overseeing Epstein’s case has or-
dered a hearing next week before he
dismisses the charges. The decision
is somewhat unusual, but U.S. Dis-
trict Court Judge Richard Berman
said he would allow Epstein’s al-
leged victims to speak, as well as
prosecutors and Epstein’s lawyers.
In a court filing Wednesday, Ber-
man said that since the defendant
“died before any judgment has been
entered against him, the public may
still have an informational interest in
the process by which the prosecutor
seeks dismissal of an indictment.”
Justice Department officials
have pledged they will continue in-
vestigating, and could still bring
charges against anyone found to
have conspired with Epstein.
devlin.barrett@washpost.com

 Find a video about reaction to
Epstein’s death at wapo.st/
epstein822.

Eight staffers knew of directive not to leave Epstein alone


Inquiry probes apparent
lack of adherence to rule
in hours before jail death

CHRISTOPHER OCCHICONE/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Bruce Barket, an attorney for former Jeffrey Epstein cellmate Nicholas Tartaglione, outside a U.S. courthouse in New York. Tartaglione’s
lawyers described grim conditions and veiled threats from guards in asking a judge to move their client from the Manhattan federal jail.

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