The two staff members who were guarding the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, then falsified records to cover up their mistake, according to several law enforcement and prison officials with knowledge of the matter.
Those disclosures came on Tuesday as the two employees were placed on administrative leave and the warden of the jail, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, was temporarily reassigned, pending the outcome of the investigation into Mr. Epstein’s death, the Justice Department announced.
The two staff members in the special housing unit where Mr. Epstein was held — 9 South — falsely recorded in a log that they had checked on the financier, who was facing sex trafficking charges, every 30 minutes, as was required, the officials said. Such false entries in an official log could constitute a federal crime.
In fact, the two people guarding Mr. Epstein had been asleep for some or all of the three hours, three of the officials said.
The attorney general, William P. Barr, on Monday ordered the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into how Mr. Epstein had managed to commit suicide while in custody and why he had been taken off a suicide watch 12 days earlier.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” Mr. Barr said.
The warden, Lamine N’Diaye, will be transferred to a Bureau of Prisons office in Philadelphia while the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s inspector general conduct inquiries. The Justice Department said in a statement that it might take additional punitive actions.
Prison staff discovered Mr. Epstein, 66, dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, officials said. He had apparently hanged himself with a bedsheet, likely fastening the sheet to a top bunk and pitching himself forward, law enforcement and prison officials said.
Mr. Epstein had been awaiting trial on charges he had sexually abused scores of teenage girls at his mansions in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla.
He had apparently tried to commit suicide once before, on July 23, shortly after he was denied bail, which resulted in him being placed on suicide watch, prison officials familiar with the incident have said.
Six days later, prison officials determined that he was no longer a threat to his own life and returned him to a cell in the 9 South housing unit with another inmate, officials said. That inmate was later transferred out of the cell, leaving Mr. Epstein alone on Friday night.
Though it is standard practice to house people who have recently been taken off suicide watch with another person, the prison did not replace Mr. Epstein’s cellmate.
The Justice Department, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, did not immediately identify the two correctional officers who were placed on administrative leave.
Two prison officials familiar with the incident said the two staff members had not looked in on Mr. Epstein for about three hours before he was found.
One of the staff members was a former correctional officer who had taken a different position at the detention center that did not involve guarding detainees. He had volunteered to work again as a correctional officer for the extra overtime pay, a law enforcement official and an employee at the jail said.
The second officer, a woman who was assigned to that wing, had been ordered to work overtime because the jail was short staffed.