U.S. prison officials are confirming that former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke suffered what they describe as “an assault resulting in minor injuries” a week ago in federal custody.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said misconduct allegations are “thoroughly investigated” and officials would “not disclose any further information regarding the incident” due to privacy concerns.
Van Dyke’s lawyers say the assault was a beating in his cell at the hands of other inmates within hours of his arrival at a low-security federal facility in Danbury, Conn.
Van Dyke attorney Tammy Wendt said he told her during a Wednesday phone call that the injuries included scrapes, bruises and bumps to his head and face and that he sought medical care in the prison.
“Jason was placed in the general population as if he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,” Wendt said at a Thursday news conference in Chicago.
State and federal officials on Thursday did not answer why Van Dyke was transfered or the degree to which other inmates in the Danbury facility had access to him.
Van Dyke was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm for killing Laquan McDonald and has been held in jails and prisons since then.
Wendt detailed the attack in a letter Wednesday to John R. Baldwin, the head of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
“It is unconscionable that Danbury would place an extremely high-profile, high-risk, most notorious former police officer into the general population filled with known gang members and violent offenders,” the letter says. “Our office was assured by IDOC that Mr. Van Dyke would be safe.”
IDOC transferred Van Dyke on Feb. 5 to the Connecticut prison from its Taylorville Correctional Center, about three hours southwest of Chicago, his attorneys said.
Asked why there was a transfer to federal custody, IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess replied that, “for safety and security purposes, the department does not discuss details of those transferred.”
At the news conference, held in her attorneys’ office, Van Dyke’s wife Tiffany spoke through tears: “I’m standing up for my husband right now because he cannot stand up for himself and fight anymore.”
“I’m demanding answers as to why they took my husband from a state facility and put him in a federal facility,” she said. “My husband did not have federal charges. My husband does not belong in a federal facility. If they assume and they claim it was for his safety, his safety has not been met.”
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan last month sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison with the possibility of release after half that time, a penalty that McDonald’s family and many police accountability advocates condemned as too lenient.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to throw out Van Dyke’s sentence. Their petition claims Gaughan erred in basing the penalty on the second-degree murder count instead of the battery counts.
If the Supreme Court orders a sentencing redo, Van Dyke could end up with a much longer prison term.
Tiffany Van Dyke addressed that possibility: “He was convicted — everybody got what they wanted. They had my husband put away. All he wanted to do was melt to the background, do his time and come home to his family.”
“Now the attorney general and the special prosecutor want to go for more time,” she said. “It sickens me the fact that they want to put more time on my husband.”
McDonald, 17, was carrying a knife and walking away from officers the night of Oct. 20, 2014, when Van Dyke shot him. A police dashcam video contradicted reports by officers that McDonald was attacking Van Dyke.
The case drew international publicity and led to a federal court-enforced agreement intended to overhaul Chicago policing.
A Cook County judge last month acquitted three officers of charges they conspired to cover up for Van Dyke.
According to Van Dyke’s attorneys, he is now being held in a segregated unit.