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Jason Van Dyke, Ex-Officer Who Killed Teenager, Is Beaten by Inmates, Lawyers Say

Jason Van Dyke

Jason Van Dyke during his sentencing hearing in Chicago in January. He was beaten shortly after arriving at federal prison, according to his lawyers. Pool photo by Antonio Perez

By Mitch Smith
Feb. 14, 2019

CHICAGO — Fellow inmates battered Jason Van Dyke, the white former Chicago police officer convicted of murdering a black teenager, shortly after his arrival at a federal prison in Connecticut this month, Mr. Van Dyke’s lawyers and his wife said.

Mr. Van Dyke, who was sentenced in January to nearly seven years in prison in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald, was transferred last week from an Illinois prison to the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Conn. Mr. Van Dyke’s lawyers said he suffered injuries to his face and was bruised, but was expected to recover.

“We’re just asking that Jason Van Dyke be allowed to serve his time,” said Daniel Herbert, one of Mr. Van Dyke’s lawyers, at a news conference on Thursday. “He’s a tough man. He’ll go in there and serve his sentence and keep his mouth shut. But he needs to be protected, because he can’t protect himself in there.”

Federal prison officials confirmed that there was “an assault resulting in minor injuries” on Feb. 7, but they did not answer questions about his lawyers’ account of the attack or the reasons for Mr. Van Dyke’s transfer to the Connecticut prison. Illinois prison officials confirmed that Mr. Van Dyke, who was convicted in state court, had been transferred out of state custody, but they declined to provide any other details.

Mr. Van Dyke’s security has been a frequent concern of law enforcement authorities in the years since he was charged. While in state prison in Illinois, Mr. Van Dyke was held in isolation and had no problems with other inmates, his lawyers said. The attack in Connecticut came on the same day he was placed in the general population there, they said. The lawyers said he had since been relocated to a segregated housing unit where he stays in his cell for 23 hours a day.

During and before his trial, Mr. Van Dyke would arrive at Chicago’s courthouse wearing a ballistic vest over his suit jacket. After his conviction last year, he was transferred out of Chicago to a jail in western Illinois to await sentencing. He and his family members have reported death threats, and his wife, Tiffany, told the judge that she feared her husband would not survive a prison stint.

“My biggest fear is that somebody will kill my husband for something he did as a police officer,” Ms. Van Dyke said at last month’s sentencing hearing.

Ms. Van Dyke, who said she had not had any contact with her husband since that hearing, cried on Thursday as she described learning about the attack in Connecticut.

“The worst has happened,” Ms. Van Dyke said. “I am fearful for him every single day.”

Tammy Wendt, another of Mr. Van Dyke’s lawyers, said she learned details of the prison attack this week from an anonymous person at the Connecticut facility. She and Ms. Van Dyke both described being frustrated with a lack of official information from prison authorities.

“To put a police officer who has spent his entire career locking up bad guys in with these bad guys — it doesn’t take a genius to know that that’s obviously going to get him in trouble,” Ms. Wendt said.

Mr. Van Dyke’s case upended the city like few others in recent history, and his name has become synonymous with the Chicago Police Department’s long-strained relationship with black residents.

Dashboard camera video of Mr. Van Dyke shooting Laquan 16 times led to weeks of protests in 2015 and an overhaul of the Police Department. His trial riveted the city, and some celebrated in the streets after he was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. A few months later, when Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced him to less than seven years in prison, some of those same activists said they felt betrayed.

The case could still be revisited. Just this week, the Illinois attorney general asked the State Supreme Court to review the legality of the prison sentence, which was far less than what prosecutors had requested. Mr. Van Dyke’s lawyers announced that they planned to appeal his conviction.

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