Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The prison staffers who were supposed to check on Jeffrey Epstein every half hour fell asleep the morning he apparently killed himself, leaving him without supervision for about three hours, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Citing law enforcement and prison officials with knowledge of the matter, the Times reported the employees at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan falsified records to cover up their mistake: they reportedly wrote in a log that they checked on Epstein every 30 minutes, as required. Lying on the log could be a federal crime, according to the Times.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender accused of child sex trafficking and sexual abuse of minors, was found dead in his cell early Saturday morning, having seemingly hung himself.
The Times reported one of the staffers who reportedly fell asleep was a former correctional officer — he still worked in the detention center but in a new role that didn’t involve guarding detainees — who had volunteered to take on overtime shifts. The other correctional officer had been ordered to work overtime. Both have been placed on administrative leave, while the warden was reassigned.
“Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant,” Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday.
After Epstein was found dead, speculation raged about how he managed to kill himself. Epstein’s death also raises the possibility that his dozens of alleged victims will be denied a chance at justice.
“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people," Jennifer Araoz, one of Epstein’s accusers, told NBC News after his death. "Epstein is gone, but justice must still be served."
Araoz has sued Epstein’s estate and his longtime friend and alleged accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, saying Maxwell and Epstein employees faciliated her “brutal rape” at age 14.
The Justice Department has said investigations into allaged abuse and trafficking by well-connected financier and convicted sex offender would continue, and that FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general would investigate how he was allowed to kill himself.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability,” Attorney General William Barr said Monday.
Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after an apparent attempt to kill himself on July 24, but had been taken off it 12 days before he died. The AP reported that the correctional officers who were supposed to watch over Epstein — the staffers who reportedly fell asleep — were working extreme overtime shifts to cover staff shortages, and were exhausted. As VICE News reported Tuesday, the MCC is operating with less than 70 percent of the correctional officers it needs.
Cover: An employee checks a visitor outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019 in New York. The warden at the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein took his own life over the weekend was removed Tuesday and two guards who were supposed to be watching the financier were placed on leave while federal authorities investigate the death. The move by the Justice Department came amid mounting evidence that the chronically understaffed Metropolitan Correctional Center may have bungled its responsibility to keep the 66-year-old Epstein from harming himself while he awaited trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)