WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: US Attorney General William Barr on Monday shook up the leadership at the federal Bureau of Prisons, removing its acting chief following the suicide of financier Jeffrey Epstein in a New York City jail.
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, a veteran of the Bureau of Prisons, will return to the agency to serve as its director, Barr said.
He named another former agency official, Thomas Kane, to serve as her deputy.
Epstein was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14. He died on August 10 in his jail cell, and an autopsy report released on Friday concluded he hanged himself.
Epstein had been on suicide watch at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC) in lower Manhattan but was taken off before his death, a source who was not authorised to speak on the matter previously told Reuters. Two jail guards are required to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed, the source added.
His death at the triggered multiple investigations and had prompted Barr to criticise “serious irregularities” at the facility.
“During this critical juncture, I am confident Dr Hawk Sawyer and Dr Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill, and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers,” Barr said in a statement.
Barr previously ordered the reassignment of the warden at the MCC. Two corrections officers assigned to Epstein’s unit were placed on administrative leave pending investigations.
Lawyers for Epstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
His lawyers had said in a statement last week that they were “not satisfied” with the medical examiner’s conclusions and planned to carry out their own investigation, seeking prison videos taken around the time of his death.
Epstein, a registered sex offender who once socialised with US President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida state charges of unlawfully paying a teenage girl for sex and was sentenced to 13 months in a county jail, a deal widely criticised as too lenient.
Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, has urged Barr to void the agreement and said that “heads must roll” after Epstein’s death.
“This is a good start, but it’s not the end,” Sasse said of Barr’s announcement. “Jeffrey Epstein should still be in a padded cell and under constant surveillance, but the justice system has failed Epstein’s victims at every turn.”