Viral posts claim there was a “camera malfunction” at the prison housing accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein before his death. Officials have not confirmed that.
As federal officials probe the circumstances surrounding the Aug. 10 death of accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, many have wondered what, if anything, cameras inside the prison might show.
A New York Post story, citing “law enforcement officials,” said that cameras in the Metropolitan Correctional Center would have captured activity outside the cells, but not inside them.
We can’t yet verify what cameras at the New York City facility did and didn’t record in the lead-up to Epstein’s death, which officials have called an apparent suicide. But there is so far no substantiation for a claim that there was a “camera malfunction” at the prison before Epstein’s death, as viral social media posts say.
That unproven assertion appears to have been spurred by a tweet by a user named Michael Coudrey, whose website says he offers “social media and ‘digital information warfare’ services to political candidates across the country.”
“BREAKING: Alleged ‘camera malfunction’ last night at MCC where Jeffrey Epstein was locked up. #EpsteinFiles,” Coudrey tweeted Aug. 10, earning thousands of retweets and likes. He separately posted a reference to the baseless conspiracy theory that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are somehow behind the death.
Coudrey’s camera claim spread across social media, and others repeated it as if it had been verified. The tweet also quickly became the basis of a story on bigleaguepolitics.com that was headlined “Report: ‘Camera Malfunction’ in Epstein’s Prison Cell Prevented Recording of His Alleged Suicide.”
Screenshots of and references to the camera claim appeared throughout Facebook, where Coudrey also shared a post showcasing his inclusion in the bigleaguepolitics.com story.
“Reporters should be demanding the release of the camera footage,” Coudrey said. “How this individual committed ‘suicide’ while on suicide watch and being monitored in prison is outrageous. Extremely convienent for the rich and powerful he was connected with though.”
We reached out to Coudrey to ask him for the source of his claim. In an email to FactCheck.org, Coudrey said that “this information was provided to me by a NYPD officer and close family friend, who’s best friend works in the MCC facility.” Coudrey said he would not comment further, “to protect the confidentiality of my sourcing.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment.
Attorney General William Barr has instructed the FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the death.
“I was appalled, and indeed the whole department was — and frankly angry — to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner,” Barr said Aug. 12. “We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.”
Barr did not elaborate further. News outlets have reported that Epstein was recently taken off suicide watch and that guards had failed to fulfill an obligation to check on him every 30 minutes.
Epstein was arrested in July after federal prosecutors in New York charged him with sex trafficking of minors; officials said Epstein had sexually abused dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
Update, Aug. 19: The New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s Office on Aug. 16 publicly reported that, after a “careful review of all investigative information, including complete autopsy findings,” the determined cause of death for Epstein was “hanging” and the manner of death was “suicide.”
Update, Aug. 30: More than two weeks after Epstein’s death and this story’s publication date, news outlets, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that two cameras outside of Epstein’s cell malfunctioned and were being analyzed by FBI experts. The Washington Post reported that footage from “at least one camera in the hallway outside [Epstein’s] cell” was “unusable,” but “other, clearer footage was captured in the area.” These reports have not been publicly confirmed by federal officials.
Update, Dec. 2: Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Nov. 19 announced an indictment against two correctional officers working at the MCC on the night of Epstein’s death – charging them with falsifying records because they did not conduct mandatory checks on inmates. The indictment revealed that there was video footage captured in the Special Housing Unit, located on the prison’s ninth floor, where Epstein’s cell was located.
Specifically, the indictment said that “aside from those two officers, as confirmed by video surveillance, no one else entered the SHU, no one conducted any counts or rounds throughout the night, and no one entered the tier in which Epstein was housed.” Epstein was “assigned to the cell closest to the correctional officers’ desk in the common area of the SHU, which was approximately fifteen feet from the cell.”
So, at least some cameras in the prison properly recorded footage the night of Epstein’s death — showing, for example, that no one entered the tier where Epstein’s cell was located. The indictment does not shed light on other cameras in the prison or reports of a “camera malfunction.” We’ll update this story again if more information becomes available.
“AG Bill Barr speaks at a Fraternal Order of Police conference.” Fox News. 12 Aug 2019.
Coudrey, Michael. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 12 Aug 2019.
Coudrey, Michael (@MichaelCoudrey). “BREAKING: Alleged ‘camera malfunction’ last night at MCC where Jeffrey Epstein was locked up. #EpsteinFiles.” Twitter. 10 Aug 2019.
“Jeffrey Epstein Charged In Manhattan Federal Court With Sex Trafficking Of Minors.” Press release, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. 8 Jul 2019.
“Report: ‘Camera Malfunction’ in Epstein’s Prison Cell Prevented Recording of His Alleged Suicide.” Bigleaguepolitics.com. 10 Aug 2019.
“Statement from Attorney General William P. Barr on the Death of Jeffrey Epstein.” Press release, U.S. Department of Justice. 10 Aug 2019.