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2019-08-22 14:43:401 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jeffrey Epstein (Image source: Public domain)
While it's been determined by the medical examiner that Jeffrey Epstein did take his own life earlier this month, there are still questions on how it was allowed to happen and why there was such a breakdown in policy at the prison where he was being held. People familiar with the matter have said that at least eight Bureau of Prisons staff members knew the convicted sex offender was not to be left alone.
Epstein had already done prison time a decade ago after taking a plea deal and pleading guilty to soliciting prostitution, a rather minor offense compared to what he'd been accused of.
He was arrested again last month and charged with running a sex-trafficking ring that involved girls as young as 14. These are charges from the same events that incurred the soliciting prostitution plea.
The financier was apparently not enjoying his time in prison the second time around. He was found with marks on his neck after spending a few weeks locked up. It was assumed it was either a serious suicide attempt or was staged.
Despite being put on suicide watch following that discovery, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan inexplicably took him off suicide watch. Nevertheless, the special housing until he was in dictated that he was to be checked on every 30 minutes, yet it had been hours before he was found hanging in his cell the morning of August 10. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
It was determined that the guards who were assigned to check on him had been sleeping. The warden was transferred to another facility, and two of the guards on Epstein's watch were fired.
Investigators looking into the incident are alarmed that at least eight officials, meaning supervisors and managers, knew Epstein was to be checked on often, yet still it simply wasn't done in the hours before his death.
It's the belief of the investigators that at least some of the officials knew Epstein was alone in his cell before he died, and the million-dollar question is which officials.
Sources say what seems like disregard for the instructions surrounding Epstein's care doesn't necessarily mean it was criminal conduct. It could just be incompetence among many in the prison system.
"It's perplexing," said a former warden at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Ohio, Robert Hood. He was once the chief of internal affairs with the Bureau of Prisons.
"If people were given instructions that Epstein should not be left alone, I don't understand how they were not followed," he added, noting it's troubling that officials might have believed they were putting Epstein on a less-intensive watch.
"You're either on suicide watch or you're not," contends Hood. "If you have any concern at all, you maintain the suicide watch."
Epstein was eventually found hanging from a bedsheet that had been fastened to his bed, according to a person familiar with the investigation. While the medical examiner eventually ruled it a suicide, Epstein's attorneys say they are conducting their own investigation.
On Monday Attorney General William Barr named a new director to the Bureau of Prisons, Kathleen Hawk Sawyer.
Barr said on Wednesday that the investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general is "well along," and added, "I think I'll soon be in a position to report to Congress and the public the results." The FBI is investigating as well.
He reported on delays in the investigation due to "a number of the witnesses" not being "cooperative," adding that "a number of them required having union representatives and lawyers."
Additionally, he noted 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."
Investigators are also looking into the circumstances surrounding Epstein's cellmates, or lack thereof. Cellmate Nicholas Tartaglione was with him at what was most likely his first suicide attempt with yet another bedsheet and yelled for authorities. He said he was attacked, but Tartaglione disputed that.
Epstein was placed on suicide watch, only to have it lifted six days later when he was returned to a special housing unit with officers directed to check in on him every 30 minutes along with a condition that he was not to be left alone.
He was placed with another inmate other than Tartaglione. He was moved out of Epstein's cell on August 9, and the financier was found dead the next morning with no one having checked on him.
A federal judge overseeing Epstein's case has ordered a hearing to take place next week before he dismisses the charges against him. Justice Department officials have vowed to continue investigating and to bring charges against any co-conspirators.
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