Federal judge to rule on request for information on Epstein surveillance video, response

Attorneys for Epstein's former cellmate, COs on duty at time of Epstein's death have requested more detailed information about why and how footage of Epstein's death was deleted

Kevin G. Hall
Miami Herald

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — On Wednesday, a judge in a federal courtroom could move to try to chip away at one of the many enduring mysteries of the Jeffrey Epstein case: What happened in the disgraced financier’s jail cell the first time he was reported to have tried suicide?

It happened when he shared a cell with a beefy former cop accused of a quadruple murder.

A federal judge is expected to decide if administrators of the jail where Epstein was found dead on Aug. 10 must provide greater detail on their assertion that they have no surveillance video of the earlier incident.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas must decide on a request for more details about the response to Epstein’s alleged attempted suicide. The request comes not from Epstein’s attorneys but from lawyers for Nicholas Tartaglione. He’s the former police officer accused of a murdering four in a drug deal gone bad in upstate New York.

Epstein shared a jail cell with Tartaglione at the Manhattan Corrections Center when the financier was discovered injured last July 23. It was reported as an attempted suicide, although the incident immediately raised questions about why one of America’s highest-profile inmates was placed in a cell with an accused quadruple murderer with rippling, Hulk-like muscles.

Speculation began after photos circulated of a younger Tartaglione from his body-building days. It was fueled by media reports citing unidentified law enforcement sources suggesting the ex-cop tried to kill the accused pedophile financier, possibly to silence him to prevent him from testifying about influential friends and associates..

Then, weeks later on Aug. 10, Epstein, 66, was found dead in his cell. Although Tataglione was no longer Epstein’s cellmate — the financier didn’t have one at the time — the ex-cop is still dealing with the stain of the rumor, arguing that he actually saved Epstein’s life in July. His lawyers worry the negative press suggesting the opposite might affect the former cop’s trial and possibly his sentencing.

That’s why the hearing Wednesday is focused on the video of events in July. When Tartaglione’s defense team asked for it last month, administrators at the Manhattan Corrections Center said they’d lost the video. Then they said it had been located, before reversing themselves and saying the located video was of a different tier of the prison and during the process the video of Epstein’s tier was inadvertently destroyed.

“The explanation as to what happened lacked some detail and specificity that we think was appropriate, and we’ll see what the judge wants to do,” Bruce Barket, Tartaglione’s attorney, said in an interview.

The absence of the video hurts the ex-cop, he said, because it leaves open doubts about what happened and leaves potential jurors with a possible bias.

“We’re vigorously contesting the allegation that he murdered anybody,” Barket said.

Surveillance video would show, he said, is how Tartaglione summoned the guards, how they ran to the cell, how each prisoner was removed from the cell.

“It would have depicted as well how the guards behaved that evening and some other issues that I can’t talk about that we think are important,” Barket said.

Government prosecutors trying Tartaglione argued in a brief to the judge that the requested evidentiary hearing about the video is unnecessary since they don’t dispute his account of Epstein’s alleged suicide try.

“The Government does not intend to dispute the defense’s assertion that the defendant called MCC staff to the cell that he shared at the time with Jeffrey Epstein, and multiple witnesses are available to testify to that fact,” wrote prosecutors Maurene Comey and Jason Swergold. “As such, the unavailability of video to confirm this undisputed fact is immaterial to the defense, and no hearing is necessary.”

Tartaglione, jailed for more than 30 months, has not offered comment publicly about the incident. But his lawyer said the former cop was trusted enough by jail administrators to share a cell with the high-profile Epstein.

“As far as I know they got along pretty well, and I get that in part from speaking to his lawyers who told me that he was getting along well,” Barket said.

Wednesday’s hearing could also shed light on living conditions at the corrections center. It has recently been home to other high-profile detainees such as Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and as of this week attorney Michael Avenatti, who represented porn actress Stormy Daniels and is charged with trying to extort retail giant Nike.

A “60 Minutes” story earlier this month revealed that a handwritten note from Epstein was found in his cell the day he died, complaining of burnt food and “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!”

That did not surprise Barket.

“I do remember him complaining about his conditions and they were consistent with complaints” about the center, he said, adding he has heard the same about rats and roaches from most of his clients there over the years. “He made the same complaint as everyone who has been there who has an attorney willing to speak out.”

The legal wrangling today over the video is also of interest to the two guards who were on duty at the center’s Special Housing Unit when Epstein was found dead — Tova Noel and Michael Tomas.

They were charged in November with falsifying records to cover up the fact that they hadn’t checked on Epstein and other prisoners in the overnight hours as prescribed by rules. They are to stand trial as early as next month. There is video, covering outside the cell, of that episode.

Media reports at the time said one of the men had been working overtime and both allegedly skipped some of the scheduled overnight checks.

The indictments against them brought the center’s staffing and overcrowding back into public view. The center was built to hold about 500 prisoners but was around 700 at the time of Epstein’s death, down from a high of more than 900.

“As a representative of those staff members we do believe they are being scapegoated for a system that is badly understaffed,” said Tyrone Covington, a vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents a wide range of government workers including prison guards. “The resolution for this issue is not to have these officers prosecuted.”

One of the indicted guards, Thomas, was on duty during Epstein’s earlier alleged suicide attempt on July 23. Epstein was moved back to the Special Housing Unit on July 30, alone in the cell despite a psychologist recommendation that he be assigned a cellmate.

Epstein’s cell was closest to the desk of correctional officers in the unit, and the indictment alleges the two guards failed to perform their 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. checks on all the prisoners in the unit.

The indictment was based on video footage, ironic given the missing footage of the earlier incident.

“I don’t have any reason to not believe that happened. It’s unfortunate because it breeds these conspiracy theory ideas. However, I don’t believe there was something inappropriate done,” said Covington. “It sounds like the wrong footage was made and retained, and that’s unfortunate.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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