Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Federal Watchdog Slams BOP for Lapses in Epstein Death, Pushes Back Against Rumors It Wasn’t Suicide

by Douglas Ankney

On June 27, 2023, the Office of U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz (OIG) released a report corroborating a New York City medical examiner’s conclusion that the death of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was a suicide but faulting the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for cascading failures that left him unsupervised when he died on August 10, 2019, at Manhattan’s now shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

Epstein was awaiting trial at MCC on federal charges for allegedly trafficking minors for sex. Due to his notoriety, he was held in the Special Housing Unit (SHU). As Horowitz noted, BOP policy “requires SHU staff to observe all inmates at least twice per hour,” with a guard ranking at least as high as Lieutenant conducting “at least one round in the SHU each shift.” Policy also required multiple prisoner headcounts during every 24-hour period, staff searches of common areas and at least five cells daily, and a search of “the entire SHU every week.”

Three days after arriving at MCC, Epstein was screened by psychological staff on July 9, 2019, denying either suicidal thoughts or a history of suicide attempts. Two weeks later, on July 23, 2019, guards found Epstein in his cell with an orange cloth around his neck, where the skin was friction-marked and reddening. His cellmate reported Epstein had attempted to hang himself from the bunk bed ladder. Following that incident, BOP’s Psychology Department asked for a new cellmate for him. MCC’s then-Warden selected one on July 30, 2019, but the prisoner was transferred less than two weeks later, on August 9, 2019.

The day before, on August 8, 2019, Epstein met with his attorneys and, unknown to BOP staff, signed a new Last Will and Testament. The following day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit released approximately 2,000 pages of civil litigation documents involving Epstein’s codefendant Ghislaine Maxwell—revealing details about alleged trafficking and rape of their underage victims. By 8:00 p.m., SHU prisoners were locked in their cells for the night, and Epstein was alone without a cellmate. A search of his cell after his death found “excess prison blankets, linens, and clothing in his cell, and that some had been ripped to create nooses,” OIG noted. Also, “Only one SHU cell search was documented on August 9,” Horowitz wrote, “and it was not Epstein’s cell.”

“BOP records did not indicate when Epstein’s cell was last searched,” he added.

OIG also found that SHU staff “did not conduct any 30-minute rounds after about 10:40 p.m.” and no required SHU headcounts after 4 p.m. Yet “[c]ount slips and round sheets were falsified to show that they had been performed.”

About 6:30 a.m. the next morning, BOP guard Tova Noel and Material Handler Michael Thomas started serving breakfast to SHU prisoners. When Thomas unlocked Epstein’s cell door, he found the detainee hanging from the top bunk by an orange string—presumably from a sheet or shirt—tied around his neck. Chest compressions were begun and medical help called. Epstein was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The following day, the city medical examiner (ME) determined the cause of death was hanging and the manner of death was suicide. Epstein had no defensive wounds or marks to indicate a homicide, it was noted. But only one security camera was properly functioning in the SHU area, so only limited video was available. It revealed that no one had entered the tier before Epstein’s body was discovered since 10:40 p.m. the night before. Another camera provided live feed of the hallway outside Epstein’s cell door, but it had malfunctioned.

Noel and Thomas were fired and charged with criminally falsifying BOP records. As PLN reported, they admitted shopping online instead of making required rounds to prisoner cells, in a deferred prosecution agreement that avoided any prison time. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.34.] OIG concluded that “numerous and serious failures” contributed to Epstein’s death: failing to follow the Psychology Department’s directive to assign him a cellmate; failing to conduct headcounts, 30-minute rounds or cell-searches; and failing to ensure the video surveillance system was functioning properly.

The son of working-class Brooklyn parents, Epstein amassed a half-billion-dollar fortune as an investment banker with just one client for 10 years: Limited clothing company founder Leslie H. Wexner, now 86, who cut ties after Epstein’s 2006 conviction for having sex with a minor. Another former mentor, Steven Hoffenberg, who died at 77 in 2022, went to prison for a ponzi scheme that he said Epstein was deeply involved in, though never criminally charged; Hoffenberg’s corpse was found in an advanced state of decomposition at his Connecticut apartment. Still other wealthy Epstein pals included Britain’s Prince Andrew. So rumors persist that he was murdered to protect a list of rich clients for his sex trafficking operations.

But Horowitz said he “did not uncover evidence contradicting the FBI’s determination regarding absence of criminality in connection with how Epstein died.” Former New York City ME Michael Baden added fuel to the conspiracy fire, though, opining that the fractured hyoid bone in Epstein’s neck was evidence of homicide. See: Investigation and Review of the Fed.l Bur. of Prisons’ Custody, Care, and Supervision of Jeffrey Epstein at the Metro. Corr. Ctr. in New York, N.Y., U.S. Dep’t of Justice OIG (2023).  


Additional source: New York Times

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login