Jeffrey Epstein’s death in custody on federal sex trafficking charges has unleashed a torrent of speculation about exactly what happened.
Yet, whether his death was a result of suicide or foul play, the one thing everyone agrees upon is that this should not have happened. It also underscores the sense that federal law enforcement is suffering an institutional crisis of incompetence. The public is left to question the fundamentals of law enforcement and the justice system.
Epstein’s death was a significant black eye for the Justice Department. Attorney General William Barr said that day that the incident “raises serious questions that must be answered.” Both the FBI and the Justice Department Inspector General are conducting investigations.
There is a lot to be investigated. Epstein was one of the highest profile prisoners in the country, and someone rumored to have the goods on numerous wealthy and powerful individuals. It is hard to believe that Epstein would not have been held in the most secure facility in the country and under constant observation. The troubled Metropolitan Correctional Center, called an American “gulag” in one report, was clearly not up to the task of keeping Epstein safe. Barr said he was “appalled and frankly angry to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” and has moved warden Shirley Skipper-Scott to administrative duties in the Northeast Regional Office pending the outcome of the investigations.
The questions start before Epstein’s death. More than a week earlier, Epstein was found lying in a fetal position with neck wounds, which some assumed were from a suicide attempt.
However, Epstein reportedly told guards that someone was trying to kill him. Did he really say that, and if so, why wasn’t that investigated immediately? Did Epstein tell his lawyers? Why didn’t they intervene on his behalf to have him moved to a safer location?
After this incident Epstein was put on suicide watch, then quickly taken off. Why? And why was he moved to a cell with bunks and regular bedsheets where suicide would be more feasible? Under the circumstances you would think extraordinary measures would have been employed to keep him under watch.
Epstein’s cellmate was Nicholas Tartaglione, a 51-year-old former New York police officer charged with kidnapping and murder. He claimed he assisted Epstein after his first alleged suicide attempt. Yet, Tartaglione was moved from the cell hours before Epstein died, a violation of a protocol that prohibits potential suicides from being left alone.
Guards did not check on Epstein for hours before he died, even though they were required to check on him every 30 minutes. One of the guards on duty was a regular corrections officer, but was volunteering for the chronically short-staffed MCC. You would think the circumstances warranted having long-serving veterans on duty. Both guards on duty at the time of Epstein’s death have been placed on administrative leave.
Another problem: Epstein’s death was reported on bulletin board site 4Chan a full 38 minutes before it was released publicly. That is also being investigated.
Every day (and sometimes hour-by-hour) we have new and disturbing pieces added to the Epstein puzzle, and hopefully investigators will be able to sort them out. If they were doing their jobs they would have treated Epstein’s cell and the immediate vicinity as a crime scene to collect whatever forensic evidence might shed light on the circumstances of his death. They can examine video from inside the prison, including video from outside Epstein’s cell.
There’s also the paper trail of his time at the MMC, including phone and text records (if any), records of talks with psychologists, and potentially other records of guards or prisoners with access to Epstein, including his lawyers who could potentially be complicit in whatever happened. Epstein’s financial records may also shed light on his activities and state of mind shortly before his death.
Epstein’s death is not the only aspect of the case that should be investigated. For example, why did the FBI wait two days after Epstein killed himself, and 35 days after he was arrested, to finally raid his private island? Presumably investigators would have done this as soon as Epstein was in custody, or as an investigative measure even before he was brought in. What evidence had been collected in the case and has it been secured?
These days, when the FBI has a hard time keeping track of evidence — for example, related to the Russiagate hoax, the Mueller investigation and Hillary Clinton’s illicit email server — it is legitimate to ask, especially since Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators may face other federal charges. This evidence will be critical.
With his death, Epstein’s victims have been denied the opportunity to confront him in the court room. Perhaps they will have other opportunities to confront the facilitators and enablers of his alleged sex trafficking network. Regardless, Epstein’s death and the controversy surrounding it are a major blow to the respect and legitimacy of the criminal justice system.
Barr will has a major task before him to explain exactly what happened and to discipline or prosecute those responsible. Judicial Watch has also launched an investigation of the Epstein case, collecting information and filing Freedom of Information Act requests to attempt to preserve critical documents and present them to the public.
Maybe Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, or maybe someone killed him. Either way, the American people have a right to know.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group. He previously worked as a counterintelligence case officer.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.