In the latest screw up in Jeffrey Epstein’s death case, federal officials revealed Thursday that video of the cell where the pedophile reportedly made his first suicide attempt was accidentally destroyed.
The surveillance footage was requested by Epstein’s cellmate, accused killer ex-cop Nicholas Tartaglione, who is hoping it will show he “acted appropriately” and earn him a break at sentencing.
Last month, federal prosecutors said the video had been found. But in a letter to the judge on Thursday, they said it turns out that staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center “inadvertently preserved video from the wrong tier,” and the video from the correct one “no longer exists.”
The mix-up is sure to fuel already rampant conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death while he was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. The New York City medical examiner has said the politically connected money manager hung himself—but rumors that he was murdered, fanned by a private pathologist hired by his family—have persisted.
Tartaglione’s attorney, Bruce Barket, said he is “deeply disturbed” that the footage is gone.
“It is stunning that a video which we asked to be preserved and which the jail should have saved without a request was destroyed,” he said in a statement. “More troubling are the various and inconsistent accounts of what happened to the video.”
Epstein was sharing a cell with Tartaglione—who faces a possible death sentence if convicted of four murders—when he was found semiconscious with marks on his neck July 23.
It was initially unclear if he tried to harm himself or was attacked, but he was moved to the Special Housing Unit and put on suicide watch. After a prison psychologist later approved his removal from suicide watch, Epstein was found dead in his cell, with a noose made from a torn sheet, on Aug. 10.
He was supposed to have a cellmate, but that prisoner had been transferred out the day before, leaving him alone. And two corrections officers who were supposed to be checking on Epstein every 30 minutes were charged in November with failing to do so and falsifying prison records to make it look like they had.
Attorney General William Barr has said he personally reviewed security video that shows no one entered Epstein’s area the night of Aug. 10. But the July 22-23 video has been shrouded in confusion since Tartaglione’s lawyer requested it two days later.
Prosecutors initially said it was lost, then said they found it and would turn it over. In Thursday’s letter, they said when they got it and converted it into playable form, they realized it didn’t show the correct cell.
Apparently, they said, Tartaglione’s cell was misidentified in the MCC system, so prison lawyers preserved the wrong video.
“The Government understands from speaking with MCC legal counsel that there was a backup system in place that housed all video for the Special Housing Unit, including the video requested by defense counsel,” the prosecutors wrote. “The Government further understands from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that it has reviewed that backup system as part of an unrelated investigation and determined 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.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741