Surveillance video taken outside of the Manhattan jail cell of accused child-sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein during his first suicide attempt was permanently deleted, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The admission, revealed in a court filing, provides another embarrassing glimpse into the failures by staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center to adhere to protocol or keep accurate records on the troubled federal detention facility.
The request for the video was made by Epstein's former cellmate, Nicholas Tartaglione, who is awaiting trial on four drug-related killings.
As investigators looked into the unsuccessful July suicide attempt, one theory was that Tartaglione had been involved. But the attorney for the disgraced former cop countered that Tartaglione had intervened to save Epstein and hoped the video would exonerate him.
After first reporting that the video had been preserved, prosecutors told the court that further investigation shows "the MCC inadvertently preserved video from the wrong tier within the MCC."
As a result, the pertinent video "no longer exists," prosecutors wrote.
How could such a mistake occur?
Officials explained it was due to a data entry error.
When the prison's legal counsel looked up Epstein's cell number in the MCC computer system to ensure the video would be saved, it showed he was in a different cell and floor than where he was actually housed.
Furthermore, officials did not watch the video at the time in order to ensure it was the correct footage because "an MCC staff member confirmed that the video had been preserved."
However, the latest court documents state, "After reviewing the video, it appeared to the Government that the footage contained on the preserved video was for the correct date and time, but captured a different tier than the one where [Epstein] was located because the preserved video did not show corrections officers responding to any of the cells seen on the video."
Was it the only copy?
According to MCC, there is a backup system in place to store all video from the Special Housing Unit, where Epstein and Tartaglione were being held at the time.
But a review by the FBI found that the video on the backup system was also erased "since at least August 2019 as a result of technical errors."
The wealthy financier, who was facing a decades-long prison sentence if he had been convicted of sexually exploiting and abusing girls as young as 14, killed himself less than a month after the July incident.
By that point, he was kept alone in a cell and was supposed to be under extra supervision, including 30-minute checks.
Conspiracy theorists proposed he was killed to keep Epstein from talking about his connections to elite circles of powerful and influential people, including Prince Andrew and President Trump.
Systemic problems within MCC
In the wake of Epstein's death, two MCC prison officers were charged with fabricating records to show they completed more than 75 mandatory checks on Epstein in the hours before he hanged himself.
Based on available surveillance footage, prosecutors allege Michael Thomas and Tova Noel failed to look in on Epstein for eight hours before he was found unresponsive. Instead, the guards "browsed the Internet for furniture, motorcycle sales and sports news instead of monitoring Epstein in his cell, some 15 feet away in the Special Housing Unit," according to the indictment.
Union officials representing Federal Bureau of Prisons officers say that beyond Epstein's suicide death, there are systemic problems stemming from chronic understaffing across federal detention facilities.
"There is a crisis in our agency. Not just in Manhattan, but throughout the Bureau. We are short of staff," Jose Rojas, a union representative, told NPR.
The sex trafficking case against Epstein was formally closed by Judge Richard Berman of the Southern District of New York less than three weeks after Epstein's suicide.