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Correction Officers Plead Not Guilty To Charges Of Falsifying Records In Jeffrey Epstein's Jail Suicide

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Two correction officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein when he took his own life pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying records Tuesday.

WEB EXTRA: Read the indictment (.pdf)

Tova Noel (left), Michael Thomas (right) (Credit: CBS2)

Tova Noel, 31, had been on the job for three years, and Michael Thomas, 41, for 12.

"It is our hope that we'll be able to reach a reasonable agreement in this case," defense attorney Jason Foy said Tuesday.

"We believe that when all the evidence is presented about how the system was ran and how they were severely short-staffed at all times, maybe you'll have an appreciation for what was going on," defense attorney Montell Figgins said.

Epstein, 66, was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges back in August.

They city's medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.

Just two weeks before, he was placed on suicide watch after being found with bruises on his neck. He was taken off suicide watch about a week before he died.

He was placed into a high security housing unit, where he was supposed to be checked on by correction officers every 30 minutes.

According to the indictment, the checks on prisoners weren't done from 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 until 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10 - eight hours - before Epstein was was discovered in his cell with a bedsheet around his neck. Epstein had been put on psychological and even placed in the cell closest to the correctional officers' desk.

The officers are accused of failing to check on him every half hour and fabricating log entries to claim they had. Instead, it's alleged they "sat at their desk, browsed the internet, and moved around the common area."

Federal prosecutors offered them a plea bargain but they declined.

The falsification of records has been a problem throughout the federal prison system, which has been plagued for years by systematic failures.

"We are disappointment with the indictments released today by the Southern District of New York. These indictments don't address the core issues inside of the Metropolitan Correctional Center New York or the Federal Prison system in its entirety. These staff where placed in an assignment where the tools and resources needed to be successful were not available. Simply assigning blame will not correct the staff shortages that put this chain of events in place. While the Indictment indicates these staff did not conduct 30 minute round, it is a fact that even had they conducted the 30 minute rounds, Mr. Epstein still would've had 29 minutes to take his own life. It is clear to us that these indictments are a mask to cover up the true issues and merely be able to create a narrative that government has taken action. The Council Of Prisons Local 3148 will stand with all staff impacted by the events at MCC NY," Tyrone Covington, president of the union representing the correction officers, said in a statement. "We encourage the public at large to look at the facts of this event. It is important not to rush to judgment but instead be mindful and open to all the facts in the case."

Tuesday, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Christmas ornaments, dry wall and Jeffrey Epstein. Name three things that don't hang themselves. That's what the American people think. That's what the American people think. And they deserve some answers," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

CLOSER LOOK: Timeline Of The Life And Crimes Of Jeffrey Epstein

"The average time on suicide watch is only about 24 hours because it is such a stark and actually depressing situation. We then can move them to another tier of observation which called psychological observation," Sawyer said.

"Did that happen in this case?" asked Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"I can't speak specifically but I am sharing this with you so you can understand our procedure sir," Sawyer said.

Meanwhile, six woman have filed lawsuits against Epstein's estate in the past week, CBS News reports. A 31-year-old woman, identified as Jane Doe 15, claims she was just a teenager when he sexually abused her at his ranch in New Mexico.

"Epstein took my sexual innocence in front of a wall of framed photographs of him shaking hands and smiling with celebrities and political leaders," she said. "I was only 15 years old."

Another recent accuser, Maria Farmer, told CBS This Morning that Epstein sexually assaulted her more than 20 years ago. She also spoke about his alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell, who has denied any wrongdoing.

"She told me she was Jeffrey's wife when I first was introduced," said Farmer. "She was completely in charge. Jeffrey was good cop, Ghislaine was bad cop."

More than a dozen other alleged victims shared their stories in Manhattan Federal Court weeks after his death.

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