Two prison guards who were on duty the night of Jeffrey Epstein’s death have been charged with falsifying records after allegedly failing to check on the sex offender in the lead-up to his suicide.
Prosecutors claimed that Tova Noel and Michael Thomas spent “substantial portions” of their shift sitting at their desks and browsing the internet. They allegedly conducted no checks of the unit Epstein was in between 10:30pm and 6:30am on the night of his death.
“They repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction,” Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Epstein’s body was found on the morning of August 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, where he was awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking minors. He had committed suicide by hanging earlier that morning, according to the official coroner’s report.
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons following Epstein’s death, told the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday she had no evidence to suggest that his death was not a suicide.
She declined to discuss the specifics of his case, citing ongoing FBI and inspector-general probes, but confirmed that the possibility of a criminal conspiracy was under investigation.
“With a case this high-profile, there’s got to be either major malfunction of the system or a criminal enterprise at foot to allow this to happen. So are you looking at both? Is the FBI looking at both?” asked Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the committee.
“The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” said Ms Sawyer.
Epstein had been put on suicide watch after an apparent attempt to take his life on July 23, a few weeks after his arrest. He was moved back to the special housing unit, an area of the prison separate from the general inmate population, on July 30.
According to Bureau of Prison policy, Epstein should have been checked every 30 minutes. Ms Noel and Mr Thomas, who surrendered on Tuesday morning, allegedly failed to conduct those checks in the lead-up to his suicide.
Prosecutors said the two prison guards were the only people on duty the night of Epstein’s death and that no other people entered the area in which Epstein was held that evening.
“Aside from two other officers who briefly visited the common area of the [special housing unit], as confirmed by video surveillance, no one else entered the [special housing unit], no one conducted any counts or rounds throughout the night, and no one entered the area in which Epstein was housed,” prosecutors said.