Law & the Courts

Barr Reassigns Bureau of Prisons Chief in Aftermath of Epstein Suicide

Attorney General William Barr listens to a question as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2019. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Attorney General William Barr has demoted the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Hugh Hurwitz, a week after billionaire Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in his Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who previously directed the bureau from 1992 to 2003, will take Hurwitz’s place as acting director. Hurwitz will be reassigned to his previous position as assistant director of the BOP’s reentry program. Barr’s statement did not give a reason for the decision.

Epstein, 66, died in what New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled was suicide by hanging on August 10, in his cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. After attempting suicide a few weeks earlier on July 23, he had been put on suicide watch for a brief period, but prison staffers recommended days before his death that he be taken off the watch for unknown reasons.

The guards assigned to Epstein are accused of falsifying log entries to read that they checked on the late financier every half hour as required, when in fact they had neglected to do so for several hours.

Barr has expressed outrage that Epstein was allowed to take his own life in a maximum-security prison, and said last week that investigators have already found “serious irregularities” at the facility.

“I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was, and frankly angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” the attorney general said. “We will get to the bottom of what happened. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.”

Barr also ordered last week that the warden of the prison be reassigned and that two guards who were responsible for Epstein be placed on leave.

A Justice Department investigation of the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death is already well underway.

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