The two prison guards assigned to watch Jeffrey Epstein on the night he died by suicide fell asleep during their shift and failed to check on the accused sex trafficker for about three hours, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing a law enforcement official and a prison official familiar with the investigation into the 66-year-old financier’s death.
NBC News said investigators were probing whether the two guards had been asleep when Epstein died in his cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center on Saturday. Law enforcement sources told the network that no conclusions had yet been made about whether the guards had been sleeping.
According to earlier reports, the pair, who have not been identified by the Justice Department, may have falsified log entries to show they were checking on inmates in the unit where Epstein was held every half hour — even though they hadn’t actually carried out this task. If true, such falsification could constitute a federal crime, the Times noted.
The two guards ― one of whom was not a full-fledged correctional officer ― have been placed on administrative leave in the wake of Epstein’s death. The warden of the jail, Lamine N’Diaye, has been temporarily reassigned.
Union officials have said the two guards and other staff at the corrections facility had been “severely overworked” in the lead-up to Epstein’s death. Both guards were working overtime on the night of the suicide; one of them was reportedly on his fifth consecutive overtime shift.
Serene Gregg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, told the Washington Post that the Metropolitan Correctional Center was extremely understaffed ― forcing many correctional officers to work overtime and endure 60- to 70-hour workweeks.
“If it wasn’t Mr. Epstein, it would have been somebody else, because of the conditions at that institution,” Gregg said of Epstein’s death. “It wasn’t a matter of how it happened or it happening, but it was only a matter of time for it to happen. It was inevitable. Our staff is severely overworked.”
The FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general have launched probes into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death ― including why the prisoner, who was allegedly found with injuries consistent with a suicide attempt on July 23, was taken off suicide watch less than a week later and left alone in his cell.
Attorney General William Barr vowed on Monday to “get to the bottom of what happened.”
“We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation,” Barr said.