Jail protocols for checking on Jeffrey Epstein before suicide not followed: Sources

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(NEW YORK) -- Jail protocols requiring routine checks on the wellbeing of accused sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein appear to have not been followed in the hours before the millionaire was found hanging in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, sources told ABC News on Sunday.

As an inmate in the Special Housing Unit at MCC, Epstein should have been checked on by a correctional officer every 30 minutes, according to Bureau of Prison protocols. But sources told ABC News that protocol was not followed prior to Epstein’s death by suicide.

In recent weeks, the correctional officers' union has complained of understaffing. Those gripes are now part of the investigation into whether the 30-minute checks were happening, sources said.

Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was found unresponsive in his cell around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Bureau of Prisons said. He was transported in cardiac arrest at 6:39 a.m. to New York Downtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to sources.

The official cause of death is pending an autopsy by the New York City Medical Examiner's Office.

The 66-year-old financier -- who once socialized with former President Bill Clinton, Great Britain's Prince Andrew, and President Donald Trump -- was placed on suicide watch on July 23 after he was initially found unresponsive and with bruises on his neck in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the federal lockup in lower Manhattan. He was taken off suicide watch on July 29, officials told ABC News.

His death angered many of Epstein's accusers who said they wanted him to be found accountable for the alleged sex abuse he subjected them too, including some when they were minors.

One of Epstein's accusers, Jennifer Araoz, who claimed that Epstein raped her when she was 15, said through her attorney that she plans to go ahead with a lawsuit against Epstein.

"This week, we intend to pursue justice for our client, Jennifer Araoz, and hold accountable those who enabled Mr. Epstein's criminal activity," Araoz's attorney, Dan Kaiser, said in a statement on Sunday. "Regardless of his untimely death, our case will move forward. Jennifer deserves her day in court."

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has ordered a full investigation into Epstein's death to determine how such a high-profile inmate could have taken his own life and why he was ever removed from suicide watch in the first place. Barr was said to be "livid," and "determined to get to the bottom of this," according to a source familiar with the case.

Barr said in a statement that he was "appalled" to learn Epstein was found dead in his cell while in federal custody.

"In addition to the FBI's investigation, I consulted with the Inspector General who is opening an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Epstein's death," Barr said in his statement released on Saturday.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would only say that he will leave it up to FBI Director Christopher Wray to get to the bottom of Epstein's death.

"I have faith and that's all I'm going to say on it. I think it's good that the FBI is investigating and they're good at this," Schumer said during a news conference. "I want them to leave no stone unturned."

Under the U.S. Borough of Prison's suicide prevention protocol, Epstein's removal from suicide watch would have required the approval of the jail's suicide prevention coordinator, usually the facility's chief psychologist.

"I won't be surprised if these impending investigations reveal that Epstein was able to charm his way off suicide watch, frankly. I mean, the guy was a master manipulator," Cameron Lindsay, a retired federal prison warden and jail consultant, told ABC News on Sunday. "I think when you look at the scope and nature of his offenses, he was probably able to convince some mental health professional that he was OK to come off suicide watch because he was no longer a threat to himself."

While under suicide watch, according to the Bureau of Prison's protocols, an inmate must be kept in a special room with no "fixtures or architectural features that would easily allow self-injury." The prisoner is also not allowed to have bedsheets or any type of clothing that can be ripped and used to harm themselves, according to the protocols.

During suicide watch, the prisoner must be observed 24 hours a day by jail staff or a trained and certified inmate companion, and seen by the jail's chief psychologist at least once a day, according to the protocols.

Once an inmate is taken off suicide watch, a report on how the decision was made must be forwarded to the warden, according to the protocols.

"There should be a clear description of the resolution of the crisis and guidelines for follow-up care," the protocols state.

Lindsay said that once removed from suicide watch, Epstein would have been provided personal property, bed sheets and T-shirts.

"In a situation like this, where you have somebody who is of such high notoriety, obviously the warden is involved," Lindsay said. "As warden of five different correctional facilities, I was involved in the decision-making process on a daily basis with any inmate on suicide watch.

"But this is a hyper-exaggerated situation. It's Jeffrey Epstein. You simply have to be involved as the warden," Lindsay said.

The warden of the MCC facility, Shirley Skipper-Scott, has not commented on Epstein's death.

Epstein was arrested on July 7, upon his return from France to New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport. He was set to stand trial next year for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of girls in New York and Florida.

He faced a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison, if convicted.

A judge ordered him to be held without bail at the MCC facility after finding Epstein to be a flight risk.

Epstein's death came a day after a federal appellate court in New York unsealed around 2,000 pages of documents from a now-settled civil defamation case between Virginia Roberts Giuffre, an alleged Epstein victim, and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime Epstein associate. Giuffre claimed she eventually became a teen sex slave to Epstein, and a victim of sex trafficking, beginning at age 17.

The newly-unsealed documents showed that Giuffre alleged that Epstein and Maxwell directed her to have sex with, among others: Prince Andrew; criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz; former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; former Maine Sen. George Mitchell; a well-known prime minister, who she wouldn't name; and a foreign man who was introduced to her as a "prince."

Maxwell has consistently denied Giuffre's claims. Mitchell, Richardson, Dershowitz and Prince Andrew have all denied the claims.

Lindsay discounted several conspiracy theories that have emerged since Epstein's death suggesting that something nefarious was involved.

"I personally believe that somebody got lulled to sleep. I see it as an issue of complacency and lack of leadership," Lindsay said. "I hope it's not something more than that, but that's what I believe is how this is going to unfold."

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