Politics

'Deeply troubling': Jail video of Jeffrey Epstein's first suicide attempt was deleted, prosecutors reveal

Key Points
  • Video recorded outside the cell of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein at the time of his first reported suicide attempt in July "no longer exists," federal prosecutors said.
  • The Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Epstein was being held, mistakenly kept video feed from the wrong area of the jail, prosecutors wrote.
  • Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew, died in the Manhattan jail in August from what officially was ruled a suicide.
U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services | Handout | Reuters

Surveillance video footage from outside the jail cell of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein during his first reported suicide attempt in July has been inadvertently deleted, federal prosecutors revealed Thursday.

Prosecutors, in a filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said the video was deleted as the result of a jailhouse computer error about the location of Epstein's cellmate at the time Epstein tried to kill himself.

A lawyer for Epstein's former cellmate said that it was "deeply troubling" to learn that the footage no longer exists. That lawyer, Bruce Barket, has been trying since July to obtain the video.

The disclosure is just the latest in a series of black eyes for federal officials since Epstein's arrest in early July on charges of trafficking dozens of underage girls to satisfy his sexual obsessions at homes in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, from 2002 through 2005.

The biggest of those black eyes occurred in August when Epstein, a wealthy financier who was a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, died in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he was being held without bond while awaiting trial.

The New York City Medical Examiner ruled his death a suicide by hanging.

But that finding has been questioned by Epstein's lawyers and by others who believe he may have fallen victim to foul play.

Epstein's death remains under investigation by several federal agencies, including by the Bureau of Prisons, which operates the MCC.

VIDEO0:5800:58
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

Weeks before he died, on July 23, Epstein was found semiconscious on the floor of his cell in a special protective unit in the jail with marks on his neck. Officials have said he tried to kill himself that day.

Epstein afterward was placed on suicide watch, but only for a short amount of time.

Two jail guards have been criminally charged with trying to cover up their failure to monitor him and other inmates as required in the hours before he was found dead in August.

Two days after his initial suicide bid, a lawyer for Epstein's then-cellmate, Nicholas Tartaglione, requested footage of surveillance video from around their cell.

Tartaglione, a former police officer from Westchester County, New York, who is accused of several drug-related murders, has said he saved Epstein's life during the first reported suicide attempt.

Barket, complained in December that he had been told the video was missing. Barket wanted the video as possible evidence in the event that Tartaglione is convicted and faces a possible death sentence. Video of him saving Epstein could help an argument that he should be spared execution.

A day after Barket complained about the missing video, prosecutors from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said that the footage had been found by MCC staff.

But in their court filing Thursday, prosecutors said that in reviewing the video last week, they realized that the footage, while being from the correct date and time period, "captured a different tier than the one where" Epstein and Tartaglione's cell was located.

The video that was preserved showed "a different, incorrect cell for Tartaglione" — which the MCC computer system had mistakenly listed as being occupied by Tartaglione, prosecutors wrote.

The filing says that when Barket first request the video in July, a lawyer for MCC "looked up [Tartaglione's] cell number in the MCC computer system and thereafter requested that MCC staff preserve video from outside of that cell for the requested time period."

"Therefore, when MCC legal counsel asked that the video outside of [Esptein's cell] be preserved, the MCC preserved video outside" the other cell, not the one containing Epstein and Tartaglione, the filing said.

"As a result, video from outside [Tartaglione's] cell on July 22-23, 2019 (i.e. the requested video) no longer exists," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors also said that although there was a "backup system in place that housed all video for the Special Housing Unit" where Epstein was being held, "including the video requested by" Barket, the FBI has found that the "requested video no longer exists on the backup system and has not since at least August 2019 as a result of technical errors."

In a statement to CNBC on Thursday, Barket said, "The various and inconsistent accounts of what happened to that video are deeply troubling," Barket said.

"We are going to request a hearing to determine what exactly happened," the attorney said.

"The video would further corroborate the events of July 23 and we believe would have supported our client's position that he acted appropriately that evening."

A spokesman for prosecutors declined to comment.

Emery Nelson, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, told CNBC, "We decline to comment as the Epstein case is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General."