WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A psychologist at the federal detention center in New York City where financier Jeffrey Epstein was being held on sex-trafficking charges approved his removal from suicide watch before he killed himself, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS
The disclosure came in a letter dated on Thursday from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd and addressed to the leaders of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking details about the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death earlier this month.
The letter, provided by the department to Reuters on Friday, confirmed that Epstein had been placed on suicide watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan in July, a status under which the designated prisoner is held in a special cell under constant observation by staff or “inmate companions.”
Epstein was “later removed from suicide watch after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist who determined that a suicide watch was no longer warranted,” Boyd wrote in the three-page letter.
At the MCC, two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed overnight, a source has told Reuters.
Epstein was found dead Aug. 10 in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the MCC, and an autopsy concluded that he hanged himself. The finding triggered investigations by the FBI, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention facility.
In July, Epstein had been found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, and before his suicide in August officials were investigating the incident as a possible suicide or assault.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr last week ordered the reassignment of the warden in charge of the lower Manhattan detention facility, along with a temporary replacement and the placement of two corrections officers assigned to Epstein’s unit on administrative leave for the duration of the probes.
The staff shakeup came hours after President Donald Trump called for a full investigation of the matter.
Epstein, who once counted Trump and former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of girls as young as 14.
Reporting by Sarah Lynch in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler