Employee group says Attorney General William Barr is flouting due process.
President Trump’s top prosecutor is promising to hold federal employees accountable for the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Esptein, who died over the weekend while held in federal custody in New York City.
Attorney General William Barr criticized the Bureau of Prisons for allowing the high-profile inmate, who was facing charges of sexual abuse of underage girls, to commit suicide, though he did not name the component of his Justice Department directly. Barr said the FBI and Justice’s inspector general will both investigate Epstein’s death.
“I was appalled, indeed entire department was, and frankly angry, at the [Metropolitan Correctional Center]’s inability to secure this prisoner,” Barr said at a Fraternal Order of Police conference in Louisiana on Monday. “We are now learning of serious irregularities that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation. The FBI and OIG are doing just that.”
He added his department is “getting to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”
Eric Young, meanwhile, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents Bureau of Prisons employees, said he was “hurt” by Barr’s comments.
“I believe all our staff are entitled to due process,” Young said, noting he understands the disappointment in the outcome but suggested bureau employees “don’t deserve to be villainized before the investigation comes out.”
The Bureau of Prisons has come under intense scrutiny following Epstein’s death. His testimony was highly anticipated due to the high-profile company the alleged sex trafficker kept. Epstein was placed on suicide watch after previously attempting to take his own life, but The New York Times reported he was taken off 24-hour monitoring and was being housed alone.
Bureau employees have for years complained about understaffing at facilities across the country, including at the Manhattan correctional facility. Young said the New York prison did not have the resources to put Epstein on 24-hour watch, and top Justice Department staff were aware of its shortfalls.
“They’ve known about the staffing situation there for months,” Young said, noting he particularly sounded alarms during the government shutdown earlier this year. “Why put him there?”
The Trump administration has drawn bipartisan rebuke for its commitment to shedding staff at the bureau. Justice officials have said they plan to eliminate 6,000 vacant positions at the bureau and they imposed an extended hiring freeze there. The agency has increasingly depended on a process known as “augmentation,” in which non-correctional officers are reassigned from their normal work into guard duties. Through appropriations, lawmakers have mandated significant spending increases for hiring at the bureau, but members of both parties have accused the administration of circumventing that requirement.
Barr eliminated the hiring freeze that had been in place for virtually the entire Trump administration in April, but acknowledged at a Senate Appropriations Committee that month the lack of hiring was a “snafu by the department.”
NEXT STORY: EPA Exceeded Trump’s Deregulatory Expectations