Jeffrey Epstein was not on suicide watch when he apparently killed himself in the New York jail where he was being held on child sex trafficking charges, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons told the New York Post Saturday.
Lee Plourde told the Post that Epstein, 66, was not "currently" on suicide watch, but declined to give further details. The Associated Press reported that Epstein had been taken off suicide watch at the end of July, adding that he had been placed on watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations following an incident in which he was found with bruising on his neck. It remains unclear whether those injuries were the result of an assault or a suicide attempt.
The wealthy financier was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, officials said. Epstein was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Epstein had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years in prison on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. He was accused of trafficking underage girls for sex and had pleaded not guilty.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that he had been housed in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, a heavily secured part of the facility that separates high-profile inmates from the general population. Until recently, the same unit had been home to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is now serving a life sentence at the so-called Supermax prison in Colorado.
The disclosure that Epstein was not on suicide watch is likely to further infuriate his alleged victims as well as public officials who have demanded a full investigation into his death. It is also expected to increase questions about how how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of such high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia where had just been transferred.
“Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” former federal prison warden Cameron Lindsay told the AP, adding that if Epstein's suicide is confirmed, it would represent "an unfortunate and shocking failure."
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Attorney General William Barr in a letter Saturday to investigate the death.
“Every single person in the Justice Department — from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer — knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.
On Friday, more than 2,000 pages of documents were released related to a since-settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers. The records contain graphic allegations against Epstein, as well as the transcript of a 2016 deposition of Epstein in which he repeatedly refused to answer questions to avoid incriminating himself.
Sigrid McCawley, Giuffre’s attorney, said Epstein’s suicide less than 24 hours after the documents were unsealed “is no coincidence.” McCawley urged authorities to continue their investigation, focusing on Epstein associates who she said “participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme.”
Other accusers and their lawyers reacted to the news with frustration that the financier won’t have to face them in court.
“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,” accuser Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.
Brad Edwards, a Florida lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, said that “this is not the ending anyone was looking for.”
“The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused,” Edwards said in a statement.
Epstein was arrested July 6 over allegations that he abused young girls from 2002 to 2005 in his Upper East Side townhouse and his Palm Beach, Florida mansion.
Prosecutors said that victims would be escorted to a room with a massage table where they would perform massages on Epstein. Investigators also found a trove of photos depicting nude and seminude young women and girls.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.