On August 10 2019, news broke that jailed financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in a Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell, immediately prompting a flood of conspiracy theories:
Among those rumors was a claim that cameras mysteriously malfunctioned at MCC that night, and thus no footage exists of Epstein’s actions:
BREAKING: Alleged "camera malfunction" last night at MCC where Jeffrey Epstein was locked up.#EpsteinFiles
— Michael Coudrey (@MichaelCoudrey) August 10, 2019
One early and prominent iteration of this claim came from far-right conspiracy theorist Michael Coudrey (also known as Mike Tokes, an associate of fellow conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, who has been banned from Twitter) a tweet that did not include a news article or any reference to a source — Coudrey simply made that statement. Discourse in the ensuing thread made no reference to cameras being switched off or malfunctioning that night or morning.
In Google News, one of the top automatic queries was “Epstein camera off” as of August 12 2019. But that search only returned results repeating the rumor. On August 11 2019, the New York Post tabloid reported:
There’s no surveillance video of the incident in which Jeffrey Epstein apparently hanged himself in a federal lockup in Lower Manhattan, law enforcement officials told The Post on [August 11 2019].
Although there are cameras in the 9 South wing where the convicted pedophile was being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, they are trained on the areas outside the cells and not inside, according to sources familiar with the setup there.
The Post relied on anonymous sources, and was clearly influenced by the rumors that spread the day before the article appeared. As is often the case with unsourced rumors or claims that originate on social media sites, a game of telephone style series of linkings occurred with no real delving into the substance of the rumors themselves.
An undated New York Magazine Intelligencer liveblog repeated the claim, citing the Post as a source:
There is apparently no video footage of what happened
The New York Post reported on [August 11 2019] that no surveillance video exists of Epstein’s death. According to the Post’s sources, there are indeed video cameras in the section of the MCC where Epstein was housed on Friday night, but none target the inside or outside of the cells there.
No other sources were cited. TMZ also referenced unnamed people about the cameras; those anonymous sources claimed there were no cameras in that area of the facility. However, TMZ’s “sources” were “familiar with the facility,” but weren’t described as having information on Epstein’s death itself:
Jeffrey Epstein’s death may never be conclusively determined, because we’re told standard practice in the area where he was detained is that cameras do not point inside cells.
Sources familiar with the correctional facility in question tell TMZ, there are cameras in the Special Housing Unit — the SHU — but SOP is that cameras do not point into the cells. We’re told cameras capture, among other things, the doors to each cell to determine if anyone walks in or out, but they don’t point inside.
One source familiar with the facility says the drill is for guards to pass by each cell in intervals ranging from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the circumstances.
Epstein’s death has presumably already been “conclusively determined,” given that his death was widely reported as having taken place. Other news articles indicated cameras were “prevalent in the facility,” but might not point inside cells. (By all accounts, Epstein was in an atypical housing unit.)
On August 10 2019, before the rumor was as widespread, NBC News spoke to prison industry experts. At the time, they discussed the likelihood that a prisoner like Epstein would be under video surveillance:
Bob Hood, a former federal Bureau of Prisons chief of internal affairs and former warden at the ADX Florence “supermax” prison in Colorado, said he also was perplexed by the decision to remove the suicide safeguards.
“Under the circumstances, I would have a staff member sitting there or have a camera on him 24/7 while he was in my custody, purely to cover my butt,” Hood said. “I know that sounds tacky, but this is not your average inmate.”
In an August 10 2019 post about the rumor, Heavy.com noted that “Coudrey did not provide proof to his tweet or any sources to verify why he wrote about the camera malfunction on Twitter,” adding:
He posted later on Facebook that reporters should be demanding the release of the camera footage. He wrote: “Reporters should be demanding the release of the camera footage. 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.” [sic]
A separate section of that article described Coudrey’s background:
Coudrey is listed on Twitter as being an entrepreneur, CEO of YukoSocial, and the co-founder of NewRightUS. YukoSocial is a company that helps people optimize their social media presence, according to the website. The site says: “Yuko Social is a team of millennial social media experts here to help with all your social media needs. Our team of specialists work to drive traffic, increase engagement and develop your brands online presence.” [sic] Coudrey’s Facebook page explains YukoSocial a little more, explaining that it’s a political social media firm that specializes in “information warfare” and has a client list that includes U.S. Representatives, political figures, and candidate hopefuls. They are based in LA.
Claims that cameras “malfunctioned” at MCC on the night of Epstein’s death appeared to originate solely with one individual on Twitter making baseless claims, with no stated source. When the rumor got legs, tabloids referencing each other or nameless sources with questionable links to Epstein’s death reported the rumor — however, in true disinformation form, each of those claims took on different characterizations. In some, cameras malfunctioned or cameras were off. In others, the area was purportedly unmonitored. In any case, we found no credible reporting verifying that cameras had either malfunctioned or simply did not record the on the night that Epstein died.