NEW YORK — 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 Justice Department said Tuesday.
The announcement came amid mounting evidence that the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center may have bungled its responsibility to keep the 66-year-old Epstein 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 weren’t done for several hours before he was found Saturday morning, according to a person familiar with the case.
That person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
While the exact manner of Epstein’s death has not been officially announced, a second person familiar with operations at the jail said the financier was discovered in his cell with a bedsheet around his neck. That person likewise spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
Under the jail’s protocol, Epstein would not have been given a bedsheet had he been on suicide watch. He was placed on suicide watch last month after he was found on the floor of his cell with bruises on his neck, but he was later returned to the jail’s special housing unit for inmates needing close supervision.
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr said that he was “frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” adding: “We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”
The FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general are investigating.
The Justice Department did not immediately identify the guards placed on leave or the warden who was transferred. The department said the warden of an institution in upstate New York has been named the acting warden at the jail.
Eric Young, president of the union council that represents prison guards, said that such reassignments are routinely done to “protect the integrity of investigations until any formal action, if any, is warranted.”
One of Epstein’s guards the night he took his life was not a regular correctional officer, one of those familiar with the case said. Union local president Serene Gregg told The Washington Post that one guard 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 charges that could have brought 45 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors in New York are pursuing a parallel investigation into whether any if his associates will face charges for assisting him in what authorities say was his rampant sexual abuse of girls as young as 14.
According to police reports, FBI records and court documents, Epstein had a team of recruiters and other assistants who knew of his penchant for girls and lined up victims for him.