CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after learning former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was beaten in a federal prison in Connecticut, his wife demanded to know why he was transferred out of Illinois in the first place, and called on authorities to do a better job of protecting his safety as he serves a nearly 7-year sentence in the murder of Laquan McDonald.
“I cannot and will not stand by somebody hurting my husband,” Tiffany Van Dyke said Thursday morning, flanked by her husband’s attorneys. “We are done being hurt. I’m standing up for my husband right now because he can’t. He cannot stand up for himself and fight anymore.”
“At the end of the day, I want my husband home. I need him to be safe,” she added. “The next time this could happen, they could kill him. I cannot bury my husband.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said she got a call Wednesday that her husband had been attacked at Danbury federal prison in Connecticut. Until then, she said she didn’t even know where her husband was serving his sentence, much less that he’d been transferred out of the Illinois prison system.
“I’m demanding reasons. I’m demanding answers as to why they took my husband from a state facility and put him in a federal facility,” she said. “If they assume and they claim that it’s for his safety, his safety has not been met. They have endangered him greatly.”
In a statement Thursday morning, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said Jason Van Dyke was transferred out of state custody “under the terms of the Federal Intergovernmental Agreement.
“For safety and security purposes, the Department does not discuss details of those transferred under this agreement. No further information is available at this time,” she added.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirms that Van Dyke was beaten, saying “minor injuries occurred.” Van Dyke’s legal team said the former officer informed them of the attack on Tuesday, a week after he was transferred to Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, a low- to minimum-security facility. Van Dyke’s attorneys said they were not informed about the transfer until after it happened.
Tiffany Van Dyke said she and her children have not spoken to her husband since he was sentenced on Jan. 18, and she hasn’t been able to find out how he’s doing after the attack.
“I do not know if he is safe at this moment. I do not know the extent of his injuries,” she said.
Attorney Tammy Wendt said Jason Van Dyke informed her of the attack Tuesday, during a conference call with his appellate attorneys.
She said she repeatedly has tried to call federal authorities to get answers about what happened but has been met with dead ends. She said Illinois prison officials also would not give her an explanation for the transfer.
However, Wendt said a prison employee reached out to her to tell her about the attack.
“He said he needed to let us know that Jason’s safety was at risk,” Wendt said.
While she did not know the extent of Van Dyke’s injuries, she said he suffered facial and head injuries in the attack.
Wendt said the confidential informant told her Van Dyke was placed in the general population at Danbury immediately after his transfer from Illinois, “as if he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.”
“Even though they call this a minimum security prison, these are violent people on the last leg of their sentence. That’s why they’re calling it minimum security,” she said. “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, and it’s just unconscionable that this happened to him.”
Wendt and lead defense attorney Daniel Herbert said they are doing everything they can to reach out to state and federal authorities to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“I think it’s time that we have to look at this and say enough is enough,” Herbert said.
“We just hope that our leaders will come to their senses and recognize that Jason Van Dyke has all the rights of anyone that’s in prison,” he added. “He’s a tough man, and he’ll go in there and serve his sentence, and keep his mouth shut, but he needs to be protected.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said, before her husband was transferred to Danbury, he was in isolation while in prison in Illinois, on lockdown 23 hours a day.
“Any other normal prisoner in any other institution is allowed a telephone call, is allowed to see their loved ones, visit, is allowed to speak to family and friends, social workers, therapists, guidance from preachers, priests. Any of the above they’re allowed. My husband’s not being afforded those rights,” she said.
She also said it was “mind-boggling” to her that her husband would be transferred to a prison on the East Coast, saying it would be a major financial hardship for her and her daughters to visit him in Connecticut.
While Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months — or nearly 7 years — in prison, he likely will serve about three, given credit for good behavior.
They argue it was improper for Judge Vincent Gaughan to sentence Van Dyke only for his conviction for second-degree murder and not for the 16 counts of aggravated battery, which they noted carry a longer minimum sentence.
Tiffany Van Dyke said the petition for a new sentencing for her husband “absolutely frustrates and sickens” her.
“Now the attorney general and the special prosecutor want to go for more time because they’re unhappy, because they think the judge didn’t do his job. I know for a fact the judge did his job. He did what he’s supposed to do. He followed the rule of law, and it sickens me the fact that they want to put more time on my husband,” she said.