Judge orders prosecutors to explain frequent flashlight checks on Ghislaine Maxwell
United States Courthouse
(NEW YORK) — A federal judge overseeing the criminal case of Ghislaine Maxwell on Thursday ordered the government to explain and justify the use of nightly flashlight checks of Maxwell’s jail cell, which her lawyers contend are disrupting her sleep, harming her health and compromising her ability to prepare for trial.
“Is Ms. Maxwell being subjected to flashlight surveillance every 15 minutes at night? Or any other atypical flashlight surveillance?” U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan asked prosecutors in a brief order Thursday. “If so, what is the basis for doing so?”
Nathan’s order came in response to a court filing from Maxwell’s attorneys earlier Thursday, which included a photograph of Maxwell in jail with apparent bruising beneath her left eye.
Defense attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim contends in a letter to the court that Maxwell has no mirror and was unaware of the bruising until she “caught a reflection of her aching eye” in a nail clipper.
Maxwell was then “confronted” by staff at the Metropolitan Detention Center about the source of the bruise, “threatening to place her in the [Special Housing Unit] if she did not reveal how she got it,” according to Sternheim’s letter.
“While Ms. Maxwell is unaware of the cause of the bruise … she has grown increasingly reluctant to report information to the guards for fear of retaliation, discipline, and punitive chores. However, there is concern that the bruise may be related to the need for Ms. Maxwell to shield her eyes from the lights projected into her cell throughout the night,” Sternheim wrote.
Nathan’s inquiry about the flashlight surveillance comes after an appellate court on Tuesday quickly turned down Maxwell’s appeal of three previous orders denying bail to the 59-year-old, an alleged accomplice of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell has been detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, since her arrest last July. She pleaded not guilty last week to an eight-count superseding indictment that alleges she aided and conspired with Epstein in the sexual abuse of four minor girls between 1994 and 2004.
Oral argument before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday focused on Maxwell’s claims that she is being singled out for harsh treatment by the federal Bureau of Prisons because Epstein died by suicide while in government custody.
“She’s kept up at night every 15 minutes with lights shined in her eyes so that they can check her breathing,” argued David Markus, Maxwell’s appellate lawyer. “She’s not suicidal. There’s no evidence she’s suicidal. Why is the Bureau of Prisons doing this? They’re doing it because Jeffrey Epstein died on their watch.”
A federal prosecutor, Lara Pomerantz, described the flashlight checks as “routine.”
“My understanding is that the accommodations that have been made for Ms. Maxwell are based on [the Bureau of Prisons’] assessment of the defendant and her security, and the security of the institution,” Pomerantz told the appellate court.
According to Nathan’s order, federal prosecutors must consult with prison officials and report back to the court by next week.
Nathan has also ordered the prison officials to provide more information — to the court and to Maxwell’s lawyers — about an alleged incident over the weekend, in which Maxwell claimed guards seized and examined her confidential legal documents. The legal counsel of the facility alleged that Maxwell violated policy by receiving documents from her lawyers during an in-person visit on Saturday.
Maxwell’s attorneys said the claims by prison staff are “inaccurate.”
“This allegation is reckless, false, and defamatory. At no time did counsel provide documents to Ms. Maxwell for her retention that did not originate from Ms. Maxwell,” Sternheim wrote in a court filing late Thursday.
Maxwell’s legal team has threatened legal action and sent a letter to the facility’s lawyer demanding that all video and notes surrounding the Saturday visit be preserved.
In a letter to the court on Wednesday, the BOP acknowledged that they took possession of certain documents from Maxwell, but did not address whether the documents had been read or copied. The documents were returned to another of Maxwell’s lawyers during a visit on Sunday.
Maxwell’s trial is currently scheduled to begin on July 12. Her lawyers have asked the court to postpone until the fall or winter to allow them time to investigate and prepare for the allegations in the superseding indictment, which added two new charges and a fourth alleged victim.
The government opposes the delay, citing, among other reasons, the stress on the alleged victims ahead of the trial.
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