Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, serving nearly seven years in prison for the murder of a black teen, was assaulted by fellow inmates soon after he was transferred to a prison in Connecticut this month, according to his wife and attorneys.
Van Dyke, who is white, was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The killing sparked protests in Chicago and outrage across the country.
The ex-cop was sentenced last month to an 81 months in prison. Records show he is being held at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.
His attorneys said he was attacked in his cell on Feb. 7, two days after he arrived at the prison.They said he suffered facial injuries in the attack.
Attorney Tammy Wendt, who served on Van Dyke’s trial team, said a prison employee called her Wednesday with details. Wendt said the employee expressed concern for Van Dyke’s safety.
Authorities would not say why Van Dyke was transferred from a state prison in Illinois to a federal prison in Connecticut.
Wendt said Van Dyke was already on his way to Connecticut when Illinois corrections officials notified her of the transfer. She said the agency did not give her a reason.
Wendt said Van Dyke was immediately placed in general population at the Federal Correctional Institution Danbury.
She said he was “led like a lamb to the slaughter.”
“He was placed in general population in a unit filled with gang-bangers, violent criminals,” Wendt said.
“Even though they call this a minimum-security prison, these are violent criminals on the last leg of their sentence. 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 it’s obviously going to get him in trouble. It’s unconscionable that this happened.”
Van Dyke received medical treatment and was placed in a segregated housing unit, Wendt said. She said he informed his attorneys of the attack during a conference call this week to discuss his appeal.
After Van Dyke was convicted, he was sent to a jail in Western Illinois to await sentencing because authorities feared they could not assure his safety in Cook County.
Attorney Jennifer Blagg, who is working with him on his appeal, said he was held in at least one other facility before he was moved to Danbury.
“He was in another facility where he felt safe,” she said. “And then he was moved (to Connecticut).”
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections said Van Dyke was transferred under terms of a federal intergovernmental agreement.
“For safety and security purposes, the department does not discuss details of those transferred under this agreement,” spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has not returned a request for comment on the incident.
The injuries were not life-threatening but nonetheless jarring to Van Dyke and his family, who have expressed concern that prison officials won’t be able to keep him safe.
“I’ve had a feeling in bottom of my stomach since they took him away … that something was going to happen,” said Tiffany Van Dyke, his wife.
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Van Dyke’s defense team has been in contact with the Illinois Department of Correction to discuss his safety since the attack, Blagg said.
“Jason runs into problems because of what he represents,” Blagg told USA TODAY. “There are inmates who resent that and would be proud to say they are the guy that beat him up or hurt him.”
The shooting of Laquan McDonald was one in a series of deadly encounters that fueled a national conversation on policing in black communities.
Police were called to a parking lot on the Southwest Side of Chicago on the evening of Oct. 20, 2014, on reports of a person breaking into trucks and stealing radios.
Officers arrived to find McDonald walking erratically in the street with a small knife.
Van Dyke pulled up to the scene, got out of his squad car and within seconds opened fire.
He shot the teen 16 times. Police dashcam video appears to show McDonald moving away from Van Dyke when he opened fire.
“I don’t know how safe he is. I don’t know the extent of his injuries,” Tiffany Van Dyke said. “At the end of the day, I want my husband home. I want him to be safe. I don’t need people to go into his cell and attack him. The next time this could happen, they could kill him. I cannot bury my husband.”
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul this week petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to order new sentencing for Van Dyke. He argued the trial judge did not follow state laws in the sentencing.
During the original sentencing, Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon argued Van Dyke should be sentenced to no less than 18 years in prison.
Van Dyke’s defense team said this week they would appeal the former officer’s conviction.