Danbury, CT – Former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of murder for the on-duty shooting a PCP-fueled teen armed with a knife, has been viciously beaten at a prison facility in Connecticut, his family said.
The assault occurred within three hours of 40-year-old Van Dyke’s transfer to the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, WGN reported.
During a press conference on Thursday, Van Dyke’s attorneys and wife said that the former officer was placed into general population on Feb. 7, and was attacked by other inmates while he was in his cell.
"He was led like a lamb to the slaughter," attorney Tammy Wendt said.
An anonymous Connecticut prison employee alerted Van Dyke’s attorneys about the assault, and said he was concerned about the inmate’s safety.
He has received additional threats since the attack, a source told the Chicago Tribune.
“We are all petrified and in fear for Jason’s life,” his wife, Tiffany Van Dyke, told the Chicago Sun Times. “Jason just wants to serve his sentence. He does not want any trouble. I hope prison officials will take steps to rectify this right away. He never should have been in the general population.”
Defense attorney Jennifer Blagg, who is assisting with Van Dyke’s appeal, said that this legal team has contacted the Illinois Department of Corrections about the assault, USA Today reported. The outcome of that discussion was not provided.
“Jason runs into problems because of what he represents and there are inmates who resent that and would be proud to say they are the guy that beat him up or hurt him,” Blagg said. “We’re obviously concerned because what he’s come to symbolize.”
It was unclear why the former officer was transferred to the Connecticut prison in the first place.
He was formerly being held at the Rock Island County Jail in Illinois, WGN reported.
While there, he was kept isolated from other inmates, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
According to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s Chief Police Officer Cara Smith, the transfer out Illinois was “determined [to be] the best housing assignment for [Van Dyke] and the jail compound as a whole,” WGN reported.
Tiffany said she has not been allowed to speak with her husband since he was sentenced on Jan. 18, and that she didn’t know he had been moved to a prison nearly 1,000 miles away until two days ago.
Tiffany said that the judge did his job, and that she and her husband know he will still have a future outside of prison.
"All he wanted to do was melt to the background, do his time, and come home to his family," she said.
During Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing, Tiffany told the court that she was terrified that her husband would be murdered while serving time in prison.
"I was made aware yesterday that my husband’s safety had been compromised," Tiffany confirmed during the press conference. "I have said it from day one, I continue to say it….my number one fear for my husband has always been his safety…and the worst has happened."
According to the anonymous prison employee, Van Dyke was specifically targeted because of the case, Wendt said.
"They are punishing him for being who he is," Tiffany told reporters. "This is a gigantic race issue. They put my husband in a setting to be harmed because of the fact that he was a white man who harmed a black gentleman in the line of duty."
She said that Van Dyke has since been moved to a segregated unit that is generally used to sanction inmates.
He and his cellmate spend 23 hours each day locked inside their cell, she said.
Van Dyke is not allowed the same privileges as other inmates, Tiffany added.
He cannot make phone calls, have visits, or meet with counselors or members of the clergy like his fellow inmates.
"I do not know if he is safe at this moment," Tiffany said. "I do not know the extent of his injuries. Unfortunately, it’s a big question mark right now."
Considering the fact that he was attacked nearly immediately after his transfer, Tiffany said she is even more concerned about him being harmed again in the future.
"They could kill him...I am fearful for him every single day," she said through tears. "I cannot bury my husband."
Tiffany demanded that the governor, attorney general, and prison officials address the issue to ensure that Van Dyke is allowed to serve his time without being under constant threat of harm.
"We are done being hurt," she said. "He is a police officer who was convicted for doing his job...I’m standing up for my husband right now, because he can’t fight anymore."
Attorney Daniel Herbert said that Van Dyke has a right to "be safe in prison," and that elected officials and the prison system have a responsibility to ensure his safety.
"The mentality out there seems to be that people won't rest until he's given a life sentence or killed in prison," Herbert said during the press conference.
"It's become a situation where law enforcement is that second-class citizen," he continued. "If the outcry from the public is loud enough, the rights of individuals - especially law enforcement - seems to be secondary to that."
The fatal shooting occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police responded to a report of a teenager breaking into vehicles in the 4000-block of South Karlov Avenue, Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden told WLS at the time.
The suspect, later identified as 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, slashed the front passenger tire of a patrol SUV, damaged the vehicle’s windshield, and took off on foot, police said.
Officers intercepted the armed suspect in the 4100-block of South Pulaski Road and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused.
According to the Chicago Tribune, police said McDonald was under the influence of PCP at the time of the incident.
During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, said that the incident was "a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Herbert then dropped the knife McDonald had been carrying that night onto the courtroom floor.
"At any point throughout that 20-something minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped the knife, he'd be here today," Herbert declared.
During the trial, Chicago Police Officer Joseph McElligott testified that he had followed McDonald on foot for several blocks prior to the fatal shooting, and said he did not feel that his life was ever in danger, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We were trying to buy time to have a Taser,” Officer McElligott said. “We were just trying to be patient.”
Dashcam footage showed McDonald as he jogged down the middle of the roadway towards a police cruiser.
He then walked around the first patrol car and veered into the traffic lane, as officers moved towards his left side, the video showed.
During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Walsh, reenacted how McDonald swung the three-inch blade behind his back and up to shoulder-height just before he was shot, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The dashcam video also did not show how events unfolded from Officer Van Dyke’s perspective, and should not be the only piece of evidence utilized to understand what occurred, his attorney noted.
But Officer Walsh was in close proximity to Officer Van Dyke during the incident, and testified that McDonald posed a risk to their safety and that they had a reason to be afraid, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"At 9:57:36, McDonald has crossed over the white lane divider away from the officers, and Officer Van Dyke has taken at least one step towards McDonald with his weapon drawn," Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in November of 2015, after Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, according to WLS.
"[Officer Van Dyke] then opened fire on Laquan, whose arm jerks, his body spins around and he falls to the ground,” Alvarez said. “While Laquan is falling to the ground the defendant takes at least one more step towards him.”
At that point, the patrol car where the dashcam was mounted moved to the right, cutting Officer Van Dyke out of the frame.
“Two seconds later, Laquan McDonald is lying on the street on his right side, and the video captures what appears to be two puffs of smoke coming from the ground near his body,” Alvarez said, according to WLS. “These puffs of smoke were later identified as clouds of debris caused by the fired bullets.”
“At 9:57:51, McDonald is still lying on the street and the last visible shot is fired,” she said.
According to prosecutors, Officer Van Dyke was beginning to load another magazine into his duty weapon - as he was trained to do - when his partner told him to cease fire.
The second officer then walked toward McDonald, and kicked his knife out of reach.
An autopsy revealed that McDonald was shot in the back of his arms, his right leg, and multiple times in the chest, WLS reported.
He was shot 16 times, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Of the eight officers on the scene, it was only the defendant who fired his weapon,” Alvarez said. “[Officer Van Dyke acted] without legal justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm” when he fired the fatal rounds.
Herbert argued that his client was forced to make a “split-second” decision in a dangerous, fluid situation.
"The judgement made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa, it's not the same standard as the perspective from my client,” Herbert told WLS. “People viewing this video tape will have the brilliance and benefits of hindsight, 20/20 vision."
Prosecutors argued that Officer Van Dyke should have used less-lethal means to stop the armed teen, and said he could have waited for another officer to arrive with a Taser or used his vehicle to gently tap him, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Van Dyke was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery and second-degree murder on Oct. 5, 2018.
He was subsequently sentenced to six years and nine months in prison – a sentence that Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon are hoping to have increased.
Raoul and McMahon have filed a writ of mandamus with the Illinois Supreme Court that claims Van Dyke should have been sentenced based “on all sixteen aggravated battery convictions,” instead of second-degree murder, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"This is the first step in asking the court to declare that the trial court improperly sentenced Jason Van Dyke for the murder and aggravated battery of Laquan McDonald and to order a new sentencing hearing,” Raoul said, according to WBBM.
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, accused the newly-elected Raoul of using his client’s case for political gain, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Activists were furious that the former police officer would be eligible for parole in as little as three years, and Raoul took office just days before Van Dyke was sentenced.
“This is about politics, not the law,” Herbert said.
The attorney general argued the assertions that his challenge to the Van Dyke sentence was politically motivated, calling the allegation “nonsense,” WBBM reported.
“This is a question of law and it’s in the interests of justice that the law be followed, no matter who the defendant, and no matter who the victim is in a particular case; and that is not a political question, that is a question of law,” Raoul said.
McDonald was on probation and was a ward of the state at the time of his death, according to WLS.
In April of 2015, the Chicago City Council awarded a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family, the Associated Press reported.