Citing “a person familiar with the matter” who wished to remain anonymous, the Washington Post reported that the cellmate of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was transferred out on Friday, hours before his death. Investigators are looking into why he was not replaced.
Additionally, the source said the guard had not checked on Epstein for several hours before he was found unresponsive on Saturday morning. Guards are expected to check on inmates in the “high-security Special Housing Unit, in which high-profile or dangerous detainees are kept separate from the general population” every 30 minutes. (Those who are on suicide watch are supposed to be checked every 15 minutes, but it’s been confirmed that he had been removed from the watch list.)
Serena Gregg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, blames the failure on understaffing.
She noted that “the Metropolitan Correctional Center is functioning with less than 70 percent of the needed correctional officers, forcing many to work mandatory overtime and 60- or 70-hour workweeks.”
Gregg said that, on the night of Epstein’s death, the two guards on duty “were working overtime — one forced to do so by management, the other for his fourth or fifth consecutive day.” She added that, “one of the individuals assigned to watch Epstein’s unit did not normally work as a correctional officer but, like others in roles such as counselors and teachers, was able to do so.” She said:
If it wasn’t Mr. Epstein, it would have been somebody else, because of the conditions at that institution. It wasn’t a matter of how it happened or it happening, but it was only a matter of time for it to happen. It was inevitable. Our staff is severely overworked.
It’s daunting — mentally, physically. I would feel confident in saying that some of that contributed to the unfortunate death of inmate Epstein.
On July 23rd, Epstein had been found unconscious in his cell with injuries to his neck and was immediately placed on suicide watch. A week later, he was moved to the special housing unit, “where there was a higher level of security, but not constant monitoring,” and taken off suicide watch.
According to the Washington Post:
Before the incident, Epstein had a cellmate: Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer in custody on murder and narcotics charges. But Young, the national union president, said Epstein was in a cell alone immediately before his death.
Young said he was not certain why Epstein was in the cell alone, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons has moved recently to make sure fewer inmates are housed on their own. He said there was some speculation after the July 23 incident that Epstein was trying to get away from Tartaglione, whom he feared, and he believed that, at least for a time, Epstein had another cellmate after coming off suicide watch.
Young asserted that in the jail’s general population, Epstein also probably would have been a target and that there was only so much officers could do to prevent him from harming himself.
Young told the reporter, “We can’t ever stop anyone who is persistent on killing themselves. The only thing the bureau can do is delay that.”
And here comes the Trump bashing. Young said, “All this was caused by the administration” which “had imposed a hiring freeze and budget cuts on the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”
Young pointed out that, during a Congressional hearing, Attorney General William P. Barr “conceded the bureau was short about 4,000 or 5,000 employees and said he had lifted the hiring freeze and was trying to ensure a steady pipeline of new officers to replace those who leave.”
Brace yourselves for the copious amounts of finger pointing to come.
One would assume, especially in the Special Housing Unit, that cameras would have captured what took place in or around Epstein’s cell in the early hours on Saturday morning. I would expect cameras to be focused directly on inmates’ cells and the surrounding areas.
Former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara tweeted, “There should be – and almost certainly is – video of Epstein’s suicide at MCC. One hopes it is complete, conclusive, and secured.”
There should be — and almost certainly is — video of Epstein’s suicide at MCC. One hopes it is complete, conclusive, and secured.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) August 10, 2019
E.O. Young, the national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, disagrees. He said, “It was not clear how much, if any, of the incident or authorities’ check-ins was captured on camera.” Young also told the reporter that, “while cameras are prevalent in the facility, he did not believe they generally captured inmates’ cells.”
News of Epstein’s apparent suicide while in federal custody immediately triggered both an FBI and a Department of Justice Inspector General investigation. It also sparked outrage among his victims who were waiting for Epstein to face justice.
The city’s chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, announced that an autopsy had been performed on Sunday, but said they would not be releasing their immediate findings. “At the request of Epstein’s representatives,” private pathologist Michael Baden was allowed to attend the autopsy.
Still, I imagine we’ll be hearing quite a bit from “sources who are willing to speak on the condition of anonymity.”
In the tweet below, Tech tycoon and current presidential candidate John McAfee adds a bit of levity to the buzz around Epstein’s death.
I was stunned by Epstein's suicide, though probably not as much as Epstein himself.
— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) August 10, 2019