Attorney General William Barr said today that there were "serious irregularities" at the federal jail where Jeffrey Epstein took his own life as he awaited trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls.
The 66-year-old financier was found Saturday in his cell at the chronically short-staffed Metropolitan Correctional Center, in a unit known for holding notorious prisoners under extremely tight security.
"I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner," Barr said at a police conference in New Orleans. "We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation. The FBI and the office of inspector general are doing just that."
He added: "We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability."
The manner in which Epstein killed himself has not been announced. An autopsy was performed yesterday, but New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said investigators were awaiting further information.
A private pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, observed the autopsy at the request of Epstein's lawyers. Baden was the city's chief medical examiner in the late 1970s and has been called as an expert witness in high-profile cases, including O.J. Simpson's 1994 murder trial.
Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after he was found in his cell a little over two weeks ago with bruises on his neck, a person familiar with the jail's operations told The Associated Press. But he had been taken off the suicide watch at the end of July, said the person, who wasn't authorised to discuss jail operations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Inmates on suicide watch are subjected to 24 hours per day of "direct, continuous observation," according to US Bureau of Prisons policy. They are also issued tear-resistant clothing and placed in cells that are stripped of furniture or fixtures they could use to take their own lives.
After being returned to the jail's special housing unit, Epstein was supposed to have been checked on by a guard every 30 minutes, but that safeguard was not followed the night before his death, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.
On the morning of Epstein's apparent suicide, guards on his unit were working overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortages, the person familiar with the matter told the AP. The person said one guard was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another was working mandatory overtime.
Epstein's death cut short a prosecution that could have pulled back the curtain on his activities and his connections to celebrities and presidents, though Barr vowed today that the case will continue "against anyone who was complicit with Epstein."
"Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it," he said.
Epstein had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month.