By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employees who were charged with guarding accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein did not search his jail cell as required and failed to check on him for hours before he killed himself in 2019, the U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Tuesday.
In a scathing new report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz singled out 13 BOP employees for “misconduct and dereliction of their duties,” saying their actions allowed Epstein to be alone and unmonitored in his solitary cell inside Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center from 10:40 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2019 until he was discovered at 6:30 a.m. hanging from what appeared to be a linen or piece of clothing.
He also criticized the bureau for other serious operational flaws, such as failing to upgrade the Metropolitan Correction Center’s camera surveillance system and under-staffing its facilities.
“The combination of negligence, misconduct, and outright job performance failures documented in this report all contributed to an environment in which arguably one of the most notorious inmates in BOP’s custody was provided with the opportunity to take his own life,” the report says.
Epstein, 66, killed himself while he was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. The federal jail where he was being housed has since been shuttered.
In response to the report, BOP director Colette Peters said the findings “reflect a failure to follow BOP’s longstanding policies.” She added that the BOP concurs with a list of recommended reforms, which “will be applied to the broader BOP correctional landscape.”
A separate investigation by the FBI determined that Epstein’s death was not the result of a criminal act such as murder.
Although the inspector general uncovered serious misconduct by BOP employees, the report did not find evidence to contradict the FBI’s findings.
‘SO MUCH TROUBLE’
Two jail guards – Tova Noel and Michael Thomas – were later charged for falsifying prison records to make it appear as though they had conducted routine checks on Epstein prior to his suicide.
Noel and Thomas were ones who discovered Epstein hanging from his bunk. “We’re going to be in so much trouble,” the report quotes Thomas as saying as he tried to resuscitate Epstein.
The charges against them were later dropped after they entered into deferred prosecution agreements and successfully completed mandatory community service.
Horowitz’s report identified at least two other unnamed employees who may have committed criminal conduct by falsely certifying inmate counts and rounds, but prosecutors declined to file charges.
Epstein, a registered sex offender who once counted former presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton as friends, avoided federal charges in 2008 after he agreed instead to plead guilty to lesser Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex.
As part of that deal, he only served 13 months in jail and was allowed to leave the facility during the day.
Years later, that arrangement became the subject of an investigative report by the Miami Herald, which raised new questions about the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
In July 2019, federal prosecutors in Manhattan’s Southern District of New York filed fresh criminal charges, accusing Epstein of luring dozens of girls, some as young as 14, to his homes in New York and Florida and coercing them into sex acts.
He pleaded not guilty, but died before he could go to trial. His former girlfriend, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was later tried, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for recruiting and grooming four girls to have sexual encounters with Epstein.
In the weeks leading up to Epstein’s death, there were red flags about his mental state.
On July 23, 2019, he was discovered inside his cell with a piece of orange cloth around his neck that was similar to the kind he later used to hang himself.
BOP psychologists determined that for his own safety, he needed to be housed with a cellmate, and over 70 employees were notified about the requirement.
But when the U.S. Marshals warned on Aug. 8 that they planned to transfer his cellmate to a different facility, he was never assigned a replacement, and instead was left in isolation with an excess of blankets, linens and clothing, some of which were “ripped to create nooses.”
The report also found that Epstein drafted a last will and testament on Aug 8, and on Aug 9 was permitted to make an unrecorded and unmonitored phone call in the evening before returning to his cell.
In a statement, the BOP said it now provides employees with annual training in suicide prevention, and strives to prioritize “the physical and emotional well-being of those in our care and custody.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. LynchEditing by Nick Zieminski)
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