Attorney General William P. Barr said on Monday that there were “serious irregularities” at the federal jail in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was long dogged by accusations of sexual abuse of girls, was found dead on Saturday morning after he had apparently hanged himself.
“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation,” Mr. Barr said. He did not elaborate on what problems he was referring to.
Mr. Epstein’s death came just two weeks after he had been taken off suicide watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, where he had tried to kill himself on July 23, officials said. Mr. Epstein was being held at the detention center awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
“I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry, to learn of the M.C.C.’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Mr. Barr said as he gave a speech at a conference in New Orleans for the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police.
That Mr. Epstein was taken off suicide watch and left unsupervised long enough to have apparently taken his own life has sparked a backlash against the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons, which operates the Manhattan jail. Mr. Barr announced Saturday that both the F.B.I. and the Department’s Inspector General would open respective probes into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Epstein’s death.
Since leaving suicide watch on July 29, Mr. Epstein had been housed in the Secure Housing Unit, one of the prison’s most restrictive wings, officials said, and was supposed to have been checked on by guards regularly. Instead, Mr. Epstein’s lifeless body was found in his cell around 6:30 a.m., by a guard conducting morning rounds.
Two guards were supposed to check on Mr. Epstein every half-hour overnight from Friday to Saturday morning, but that procedure was not followed, a law enforcement official said.
In addition, Mr. Epstein was being housed alone, even though he had recently been taken off suicide watch. Under normal procedure, he should have had a cellmate, several officials said.
According to Bureau of Prisons policy, several high-ranking prison officials would have had to have approved Mr. Epstein’s removal from the facility’s suicide prevention program, including the prison’s chief psychologist.
Mr. Barr has asked the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s Inspector General to launch inquiries into what was happening at the prison in the days and hours leading up to Mr. Epstein’s death. Mr. Epstein was also found unconscious in his cell last month in what could have been a suicide attempt.
Mr. Barr and the Justice Department wanted to know why he was taken off suicide watch just a few days after he was discovered.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” Mr. Barr said. “There will be accountability.”
The country’s top law enforcement official also said that Mr. Epstein’s suicide would not halt the investigation into other people who might have helped him traffic teenage girls for sex. He was charged with sexually abusing hundreds of adolescent girls at his mansions in Manhattan and in Palm Beach, Fla.
“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Mr. Barr said. “The victims deserve justice and they will get it.”
Ali Watkins is a reporter on the Metro Desk, covering courts and social services. Previously, she covered national security in Washington for The Times, BuzzFeed and McClatchy Newspapers. @AliWatkins
Katie Benner covers the Justice Department. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @ktbenner
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