Jeffrey Epstein was taken off suicide watch by high-level psychologist

The financier who was being held on federal sex-trafficking charges died by suicide on Aug. 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
Image: Jeffrey Epstein
Jeffrey Epstein in an undated photo from the United States Virgin Islands Department of Justice sex-offender registry.U.S. Virgin Islands Dept. of Justice

Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire financier who died by suicide while in federal jail on sex-trafficking charges, had been taken off suicide watch by a doctoral-level psychologist, the Justice Department said in a letter to Congress.

Epstein, 66, died on Aug. 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging.

He had been placed on suicide watch in July after he was found in his cell semiconscious with marks on his neck.

But he "was later removed from suicide watch after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist who determined that a suicide watch was no longer warranted," the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to the House Judiciary Committee's chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and its ranking member, Doug Collins, R-Ga.

Federal inmates on suicide watch are placed in special cells, the letter said, citing Bureau of Prisons policy. "This environment includes easy access to the room, unobstructed vision of the inmate at all times, and limited availability of objects, materials, or architectural features that would allow for easy self-injury," the letter states.

An inmate on suicide watch is seen daily by a psychologist and is constantly being observed by either staff or an "inmate companion" who documents their observations regularly.

Inmates can only be taken off suicide watch by a Bureau of Prisons psychologist after a face-to-face evaluation, the letter states.

Earlier this week, federal investigators sought subpoenas for jail employees after Justice Department officials said that some of the workers who were on duty when the disgraced financier died have retained lawyers and declined interviews.

On Monday, Attorney General William Barr removed Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. Hurwitz will remain in the bureau as the assistant director of another division, Barr said.

Epstein's suicide has led to immediate fallout. The jail's warden, Lamine N'Diaye, was temporarily reassigned, and two guards who were assigned to watch Epstein have been placed on leave. Investigators are looking into whether the guards were sleeping on duty when Epstein killed himself.

Epstein had been in federal custody since his arrest in July at a New Jersey airport. He was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking, and faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

The indictment in his case showed that he sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paid in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, according to federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department said in its letter that even with Epstein's death, it will continue to investigate anyone who was "complicit" in his alleged crimes.

Britain’s Prince Andrew on Saturday defended himself in reference to his being mentioned in unsealed court documents related to Epstein. The unsealed documents are part of a settled civil lawsuit that was not against Prince Andrew. No criminal charges have been filed against the prince in connection to Epstein.

"At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction," Andrew, who is one Queen Elizabeth II's four children, said in a statement about his relationship to Epstein.