CHICAGO — The wife of a Chicago police officer who was convicted of fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald demanded on Thursday to know why her husband was transferred from an Illinois state prison where he was kept from harm to a federal prison in Connecticut where he was assaulted and where she fears he is still in danger.
“I don’t need people to go into his cell and attack him,” said an emotional Tiffany Van Dyke at a news conference. “The next time this could happen, they could kill him. I cannot bury my husband.”
The Illinois Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday that Jason Van Dyke was moved to federal custody but would not say why. Asked about the attack on Van Dyke, the federal Bureau of Prisons said in an email that it could confirm “an assault resulting in minor injuries” occurred on Feb. 7. The bureau declined to provide additional information, citing privacy concerns.
Van Dyke, who is white, was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for shooting McDonald 16 times in 2014. He was sentenced last month to six years and nine months in prison.
Van Dyke was attacked by another inmate after his transfer to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, appellate attorney Jennifer Blagg said in an interview Thursday. Blagg said Van Dyke was not severely injured and has since been placed in a segregated unit away from most inmates as a precaution.
Blagg said she learned of the attack when she and another attorney were on the phone with Van Dyke talking a request the state’s attorney general filed asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review Van Dyke’s sentence.
“We were explaining to him what it meant … when he said another inmate had jumped him and landed a few punches,” Blagg said.
Blagg didn’t appear at a news conference Thursday with Tiffany Van Dyke and trial attorneys Dan Herbert and Tammy Wendt, who expressed concern that Jason Van Dyke had been placed in the prison’s general population with other inmates. They said former police officers would be particularly vulnerable to attack from other inmates — something Tiffany Van Dyke and others told a judge about during her husband’s sentencing hearing. While imprisoned in Illinois, Van Dyke had been kept in a segregated unit.
“It was as if he was led like a lamb to slaughter,” said Wendt of the attack that she said occurred within four hours of Van Dyke’s arrival to the general population unit.
Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in a half-century convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting. He was sentenced in January to six years and nine months in prison — a sentence that angered activists. This week, the state’s attorney general and the special prosecutor who handled the case and asked the judge to impose a sentence of 18 to 20 years asked the Illinois Supreme Court to review the sentence.
Absent a new sentence, Van Dyke will likely serve only about three years, with credit for good behavior.
Tiffany Van Dyke said the assault was a realization of her worst fears and noted the widespread media attention his case has received in explaining why her husband might still be in danger even though he’s imprisoned several states away.
“My husband’s life, my family’s life is national news,” she said. “At the basic minimum, they were supposed to keep him safe.”