What Really Happened to Epstein

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Law enforcement officials confirmed that the F.B.I. initiated a search of Jeffrey Epstein's private island home off the coast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday. The 72-acre island was purchased by Epstein in 1998 for $7.95 million and has the nickname “Pedophile Island.” Below is drone video footage of the raid where both F.B.I agents and N.Y.P.D. officers can be seen in various locations on the property. The search was led by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and agents searched for evidence related to the wealthy financier's past sex-trafficking crimes. The search came two days after Epstein was found unresponsive in his Manhattan jail cell and federal authorities have confirmed the continued investigation into Epstein, intensifying inquiries into his crimes and the circumstances around his death. 

Many are questioning why the search of his island property, where so many alleged sex crimes took place took so long to initiate given the formal allegations made by several victims long ago. Officials have not specified exactly why the search was delayed, but given that other property searches were conducted in New York and Palm Beach pursuant to the recent criminal charges against Epstein, it’s very likely that there were jurisdictional issues that kept authorities from executing a warrant in this instance. The subsequent death of Epstein would have eliminated certain obstacles in terms of a search on the island property due to the fact that he is no longer alive to contest it procedurally.

Suspicious Suicide

The investigation into the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein also continues and we now have more answers regarding the protocols that were and were not followed leading up to his death. Officials confirmed that the unit of the federal prison where Epstein was housed in Manhattan was properly staffed on the night of his death. They have also confirmed a 30-minute mandate exists for checking on inmates at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). No official word has been released on whether this time check protocol was actually followed and given the reports of severe understaffing it does not seem likely. There is also confirmation that Epstein's cellmate was released Friday and not replaced, which violates federal protocol for that section of MCC. In response to the failure to replace his cellmate in accordance with policy, an official confirmed that they simply “don’t know yet” why protocol was not followed.

(Jeffrey Epstein photographed after his arrest, in the MCC facility where he died.)

Just days before Epstein’s death, thousands of documents that gave graphic details of his alleged sexual abuse from a previous civil suit had been unsealed and released to the public. Those documents also implicated many other co-conspirators and abusers, naming several prominent men. Epstein had met with his lawyers Friday evening and at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, guards found him dead while doing morning rounds. It has been reported and officials have confirmed that he died from an apparent hanging. He was believed to have killed himself the night before, sometime between his meeting with his attorneys and when he was found the next morning.

Several questions about the failure to implement proper protocols still remain. Epstein had attempted to commit suicide only 11 days before, when he was found in a fetal position on his cell floor with neck injuries. Union officials confirm that MCC is currently down 38 correction officers, with workers doing mandatory and voluntary overtime to try to cover shifts and some officers pulling double and even triple shifts. Additionally, regular staff and case managers are being pulled in to do correction officer work and there are sometimes not enough people to adequately man surveillance cameras.

"I have not seen anything like this [understaffing]. It is ludicrous. They are running these prisons with practically no staffing." — union official on MCC understaffing

The city’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, announced on Sunday night that her office had conducted an autopsy of Epstein, but that she was declining to release a determination about the cause of death at this time. A city official confirmed that the medical examiner is confident that the cause of death will be suicide by hanging but there is more information needed yet to complete a full investigation. It was also confirmed that a private pathologist was hired by Epstein’s lawyers to observe the autopsy examination conducted by Sampson.

The investigation is expected to focus on the events that occurred between Epstein’s first suicide attempt two weeks ago and the final events on Saturday morning. If all the proper camera footage is recovered, investigators should be able to provide the limited details of when the last check on Epstein actually occurred and who went in and out of his cell. But it will be difficult to know exactly what happened in Epstein’s cell leading up to his death given he was alone and there are no cameras in the actual cells of the specific unit in question. The idea that an inmate who had tried to commit suicide only a few days earlier was not even being monitored by camera in his cell is alarming.

As the investigation continues, the F.B.I. has reiterated its ongoing commitment to continuing to investigate any allegations against Epstein and has urged any other victims to come forward. Although the criminal case against Epstein will cease, victims will be able to file a civil complaint to pursue monetary damages from his estate. The procedural ramifications for others who may be charged in the future are complicated and will need to be assessed as each issues arises and charges are initiated. Much like the criminal case against Epstein, the investigation into his death will involve many law enforcement entities, will be incredibly complex and likely be ongoing for a while. It doesn’t help that the events leading up to his alleged suicide and some of the motivations of those investigating that suicide are enshrouded in suspicion.

Update: On Tuesday, August 13th, 2019, two staff members disclosed to the MCC warden that they had falsified the logs after falling asleep for several hours and failing to check on Epstein every 30 minutes, per protocol. There have been no details about whether Epstein was checked on after they realized their mistake or whether the staff members can confirm if Epstein was alive or dead after the incident.

Those disclosures came as the two employees were placed on administrative leave and the warden of the jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, was temporarily reassigned, pending the outcome of the investigation into Mr. Epstein’s death, the Justice Department announced.

Second Update: Newly released details confirm that Jeffrey Epstein sustained multiple breaks in his neck bones, including the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Forensic experts confirm that a break of this kind can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, but they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation. The office of New York City’s chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, completed an autopsy of Epstein’s body Sunday but has still not confirmed a cause of death.

Third Update: On Friday, August 16th, the New York City medical examiner’s office officially confirmed that the cause of death for Epstein was suicide by hanging. Epstein appeared to have tied a bedsheet to the top of a set of bunk beds, then knelt toward the floor with enough force that he broke several bones in his neck, according to officials.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.