Two prison guards who were responsible for checking on Jeffrey Epstein the night of his supposed suicide have been indicted on charges of falsifying records and conspiracy as part of an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death.
Tova Noel and Michael Thomas allegedly fell asleep while on duty and signed off on records stating that they had performed the routine checks on prisoners every 30 minutes, although they hadn’t.
When Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in the morning of August 10, Noel admitted to skipping her early morning rounds, and Thomas told his supervisor, “We messed up…I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”
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According to the indictment, the guards, who were working overtime, slept through Epstein's "suicide" and browsed computers for motorcycle and furniture sales, as well as sports news while they were supposed to be checking on prisoners.
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CBS News has more details of the charges the prison guards are facing:
Two correctional officers responsible for guarding accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein the day he died by suicide have been charged with falsifying prison records, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday. The guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, surrendered to federal authorities Tuesday morning.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell August 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a number of underage girls. The medical examiner's office ruled his death a suicide by hanging on August 16, but the death raised questions about how he could have died under supervision.
Epstein was put on suicide watch the month before he died after he was found with a strip of bedsheet around his neck on July 23, according to the indictment. Epstein was placed on suicide watch for about 24 hours and then on psychological observation for a week before he was placed into a high-security housing unit where he was supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes. The guards are accused of failing to conduct the checks as required and falsifying jail records claiming they had, the indictment says.
The guards were both working overtime shifts where Epstein was housed in the correctional center's "special housing unit," an area where prisoners are separated from the general population for safety, according to a federal indictment. They have been placed on leave
Epstein was assigned to a cell closest to the correctional officers' desk, about 15 feet away, according to the indictment. He was ordered by the facility's psychological staff to have an assigned cellmate. But Epstein's cellmate was transferred out of his cell in a "routine, pre-arranged transfer" on August 9.
Federal prosecutors allege that for large portions of their shifts that night, Noel and Thomas "sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area of the [special housing unit.]" For a period of about two hours, they sat at their desks without moving and appeared to be asleep, according to the indictment.
Politico also said:
Two prison guards at the New York federal jail where wealthy serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein allegedly died by suicide in August repeatedly falsified official logs to show they made cell checks they never did, according to a six-count felony indictment returned Tuesday.
The indictment also accused them of apparently sleeping on the job and casually surfing the Internet in the hours before Epstein’s body was found,
Tova Noel, 31, faces five charges of making false entries in official records, while Michael Thomas, 46, faces three counts of falsifying records. Each was also charged with one count of conspiracy.
The sudden death of Epstein, 66, a wealthy financier and registered sex offender facing a new round of sex trafficking charges at the time of his demise, prompted widespread suspicion fueled by his long history of association with other prominent men in politics, academia and business. A pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother further fanned the flames by declaring that neck fractures seen during the autopsy were more consistent with homicide than suicide.
An investigation carried out by the FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General reaffirmed the official stance that Epstein’s death at the Metropolitan Correctional Center was self-inflicted, but suggests it was enabled by negligence, misconduct, fraud and perhaps exhaustion on the part of the personnel on duty that night in the high-security, ninth-floor cell block where Epstein was being held after a reported suicide attempt the previous month.
There was apparently no video of Epstein’s cell or the area immediately outside it, but investigators established a chronology of what the guards did — and failed to do — that night by reviewing video of the guard station in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, or SHU.
That video revealed that guards in the SHU failed to perform five jail-wide counts between 4 P.M. on August 9 and 5 A.M. on August 10, even though all were certified as complete and passed to the facility’s command center.
In addition, Noel signed more than 75 separate entries saying she and Thomas performed required half-hourly “rounds” for each tier of the SHU between midnight and 6:30 A.M., even though they were not done, the indictment says.
“During the night, instead of completing the required counts and rounds, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, the defendants, were seated at the correctional officers’ desk in the SHU common area (…approximately 15 feet from Epstein’s cell), used the computers, and moved around the SHU common area,” the grand jury and prosecutors alleged. “For a period of approximately two hours, Noel and Thomas sat at the their desks without moving, and appeared to have been asleep.”
Noel was perusing furniture sales and “benefit websites,” while Thomas occasionally looked up “motorcycle sales and sports news,” while neglecting their official duties, the indictment says.
Both officers owned up to at least some of their failings soon after Epstein’s body was found with a “noose” around his neck at about 6:30 A.M on August 10, according to the indictment. Noel allegedly admitted skipping two sets of early morning rounds, while Thomas allegedly said to a supervisor: “We messed up…I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”
Noel faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts, while Thomas faces up to 20 years. Federal defendants are typically sentenced in accordance with sentencing guidelines that usually call for sentences far short of the maximum, particularly for first-time offenders.
At least two other correctional staff members are implicated in the alleged misconduct — officers who claimed to have performed counts with Noel at 4 P.M. and 10 P.M. on August 9, but never did, according to the indictment. They are not named in the charging papers and there is no indication whether they’ve been charged or are expected to testify against Noel and Thomas, who reportedly turned down plea deals last week.
Noel and Thomas pleaded not guilty on Tuesday afternoon and were released on $100,000 bond. The defendants, hiding their faces with clothing, left the courthouse in separate cars just a block or so from the lower Manhattan jail where they had worked and Epstein died, The Associated Press reported.
A lawyer for Thomas, Montell Figgins, said both guards were being “scapegoated.”
“We feel this is a rush to judgment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said, according to The AP. “They’re going after the low man on the totem pole here.”