Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Two New York City correctional officers who were on duty when convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died in custody in August were charged Tuesday with filing false reports.
Metropolitan Correctional Center guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas will appear in Manhattan Federal Court on charges they altered forms that recorded the inmate headcount at the prison. Prosecutors say they fell asleep and used the Internet on the overnight shift of Aug. 10. Epstein, who faced trial for sex trafficking, was later found hanged.
"The [guards] had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. "Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction."
Epstein's cell was just 15 feet from the guards' desks, the indictment said. Prosecutors said they filed the false false paperwork the afternoon of Aug. 9, a few hours before security cameras showed Epstein escorted to his cell. Noel and Thomas filed another false count a short time later, the charges say, and Epstein was found dead early the next morning.
According to the 20-page indictment, Noel walked past Epstein's cell a final time at 10:30 p.m., before the guards filed three more false headcounts. Guards are supposed to perform headcounts every 30 minutes.
"For substantial portions of their shift, Noel and Thomas sat at their desk, browsed the Internet and moved around the common area," the indictment states. "To conceal their failure to perform their duties, Noel and Thomas repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple head counts of inmates, when in truth and in fact, they had never conducted such counts."
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, a union that represents the guards, has said the facility was short staffed and guards have to routinely work extra overtime.
"Years of severe staff shortages, mandatory overtime, and a serious lack of resources created this unfortunate situation," said union President Eric Young.
Epstein had previously been placed on suicide watch, due to injuries found to his neck while in custody.