Criminal charges are expected to be brought this week against two correctional officers who were responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein at the time of his death at a federal jail in New York City, according to a report from the Associated Press.In light of recent reports from an independent medical examiner that Epstein's injuries were more consistent with homicidal strangulation than suicide, the criminal process might bring the public closer to the truth about what happened to the financier and accused sex trafficker.
From an article by AP reporters Michael Balsamo and Tom Hays:
Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein when he took his own life are expected to face criminal charges this week for falsifying prison records, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The federal charges could come as soon as Tuesday and are the first in connection with Epstein’s death. The wealthy financier died at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York while awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.
The officers on Epstein’s unit at the federal jail in New York City are suspected of failing to check on him every half-hour, as required, and of fabricating log entries to claim they had. Federal prosecutors offered the guards a plea bargain, but the AP reported Friday that the officers declined the deal.
The Epstein case already has shown the federal correctional system is manned by overworked staffers, who often cut corners and fail to follow proper procedures. From AP:
Both guards were working overtime because of staffing shortages. They have been placed on administrative leave while the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general investigate the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death. The 66-year-old had been awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls.
Epstein was placed on suicide watch after he was found on his cell floor July 23 with bruises on his neck. Multiple people familiar with operations at the jail have said Epstein was then taken off suicide watch about a week before his death, meaning he was less closely monitored but still supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes.
Epstein’s death exposed mounting evidence that the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center may have bungled its responsibility to keep him alive. Guards often work overtime day after day, and other employees are pressed into service as correctional officers.
Falsification of records might prove to be the central issue in a criminal case against the guards:
Falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was named director of the Bureau of Prisons after Epstein’s death, disclosed in a Nov. 4 internal memo that a review of operations across the agency found some staff members failed to perform required rounds and inmate counts but logged that they had done so anyway.
“Falsification of information in government systems and documents is also a violation of policy, and may be subject to criminal prosecution as well,” Hawk Sawyer wrote in the memo to top prison officials, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.
The memo also noted that staff members who are indicted by a grand jury will be placed on an indefinite, unpaid suspension until the resolution of the criminal case.
Epstein’s ability to take his own life while incarcerated at one of the most secure jails in America ended the possibility of a trial that would have involved prominent figures. And it sparked widespread anger that he wouldn’t have to answer for the allegations. He had pleaded not guilty and was preparing to argue that he could not be charged because of a 2008 deal he made to avoid federal prosecution on similar allegations.
The Justice Department has vowed to aggressively investigate and bring charges against anyone who may have helped Epstein. Federal prosecutors investigating the financier’s death subpoenaed up to 20 staff members at the jail in August.
Attorney General William Barr — who has said investigators found “serious irregularities” at the jail — said the FBI’s investigation had been slowed because some witnesses had been uncooperative.
In addition to the shakeup at the top of the Bureau of Prisons, the warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center had also been reassigned to a desk post at a regional office.