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Misconduct and errors allowed Jeffrey Epstein to commit suicide, DOJ finds

Prison employees failed to monitor Epstein, lied about it and failed to make sure he had a cellmate as recommended, the Justice Department inspector general concluded.  
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A cascade of misconduct, negligence and errors by employees of the federal Bureau of Prisons created the conditions that allowed accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to hang himself in his Manhattan jail cell in 2019, according to a new report by the Department of Justice inspector general that finds no evidence to contradict the official conclusion that Epstein was not murdered.

The 120-page report, released Tuesday, found some level of misconduct by 13 Bureau of Prisons employees, including two who were charged criminally and four others whose criminal referrals were declined by federal prosecutors. Employees failed to monitor Epstein, lied about that, allowed him to have extra clothing in his cell and failed to make sure he had a cellmate as recommended, the report found. 

The Bureau of Prisons said in a written response included in the report that it concurred with all eight of the report’s recommendations and that the “troubling” conduct described was not representative of the 35,000 employees who staff 120 federal correctional institutions.

"We note that several enhanced practices have already been implemented to address the issues at hand," the bureau said. "These improvements include diligent review of video footage from restrictive housing to ensure that employee rounds are conducted promptly and accurately." 

Yet the report by the DOJ watchdog office makes clear that the kind of failures described have been “recurring,” including as documented in a similar IG report last year about how accused murdered and organized crime boss Whitey Bulger was murdered at a high security federal prison in 2018. Ted Kaczynski, the man known as the Unabomber, killed himself at a federal prison in North Carolina earlier this month.

The facility where Epstein killed himself, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was ordered closed in 2021 so the government could address infrastructure shortcomings there.

Many of the key facts outlined in the Epstein IG report were previously known, but the report goes into exhaustive detail about what happened in the prison in the days and hours leading up to when Epstein was found hanging in a seated position from the top bunk in his cell on Aug. 9, 2019. At the time, the millionaire financier was facing multiple sex trafficking charges, and a trove of incriminating material had just been unsealed in court. 

The report concurs with the findings of the New York medical examiner that Epstein’s cause of death was consistent with hanging, and that a lack of defensive wounds or drugs in his system pointed to suicide.

The IG report says Epstein’s cellmate told prison staffers that he tried to hang himself on July 23, when he was found with an orange cloth around his neck. Epstein was then briefly placed on suicide watch and removed. The prison’s psychological unit concluded that he needed to be housed with an appropriate cellmate, and an email went to 70 prison employees informing them of this requirement, the report says.

But when Epstein’s cellmate was transferred out of his cell on the morning on Aug. 9, no action was taken, and Epstein was left alone in his cell. Two prison staff members assigned to his unit then failed to search Epstein's cell and check on him every 30 minutes, and then they lied about it, the report found. As a result, Epstein was unobserved for four hours before his death. 

Epstein had made a new last will and testament with his lawyers the day before his death, but prison officials were not aware of that, investigators found.

On the day he took his life, Epstein, 66, was also allowed to make an unmonitored phone call in violation of policy, the report says, to a woman with whom he had an alleged relationship.

“The combination of negligence, misconduct and outright job performance failures documented in today’s report all contributed to an environment in which arguably one of the most notorious prison inmates in BOP’s custody was left unmonitored and alone in his cell with an excess of prison linens, thereby providing him with the opportunity to take his own life,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement. 

Horowitz added that the failures led to questions about the cause of death and “effectively deprived Epstein’s numerous victims of the opportunity to seek justice.”

CORRECTION (June 28, 2023, 10:26 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the first name of the organized crime boss who was killed in prison. He was Whitey Bulger, not Whiter Bulger.