US lawmaker demands answers in Jeffrey Epstein’s death in custody

WASHINGTON: A top US lawmaker joined the chorus of officials demanding answers from the Bureau of Prisons over the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein in federal custody.
The chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat Jerrold Nadler, sent a scathing letter on Monday to the acting director of federal prisons stating that the “competency and rigor of our criminal justice system has been marred.”
A representative for the Bureau of Prisons and acting director Hugh Hurwitz were not immediately available to comment early on Tuesday.
Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges when he was found dead on Saturday, having apparently hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan.
The 66-year-old financier had been on suicide watch, but apparently the watch was lifted. According to the New York Times, several high-ranking prison officials, including the prison’s chief psychologist, would have to approve lifting it.
The prison was also criticised for being understaffed and for not performing regular checks on Epstein, according to an official who was not authorised to speak on the matter.
Epstein was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving underage girls as young as 14.
Nadler’s letter echoes comments from US Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, who on Monday criticised “serious irregularities” at the federal prison, and said that the sex-trafficking investigation would continue.
“Any co-conspirators should not rest easy,” Barr, the top US law enforcement official, said at an event in New Orleans.
Epstein was already a registered sex offender after pleading guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex. Before his conviction, he had counted the rich and powerful, including US President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, among his associates .
Nadler said if the allegations of mistakes made at the prison were true, it would demonstrate “severe miscarriages of or deficiencies in inmate protocol and has allowed the deceased to ultimately evade facing justice.”
Nadler and other lawmakers asked for answers ranging from the prison’s suicide-prevention policies to information on the guards on duty and whether video cameras were in use. It asks that the answers be provided by August 21 and adds that it is imperative that his committee, which oversees the Department of Justice receive answers. — Reuters