Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke was beaten in his prison cell shortly after being transferred from Illinois custody to a federal facility in Connecticut last week, sources close to the case confirmed Wednesday.
The attack occurred just hours after Van Dyke arrived at a federal prison in Connecticut last week — a move that his family and attorneys only learned about after the fact, one source close to the case told the Tribune.
It was unclear why the former officer was transferred out of Illinois custody, where he had been held since he was sentenced to 81 months in prison last month.
The former officer was held in isolation when he was in state prison, and no security threats or other incidents occurred there that would have prompted such a dramatic transfer, the source said.
Illinois prison officials declined to say where he was being held, citing concerns for his safety should his location be revealed.
Van Dyke was put in general population in the Connecticut federal prison where the attack occurred, according to the source, who said the former officer has received other threats since last week’s reported beating.
The federal Bureau of Prisons website lists Van Dyke being held at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, a low- to minimum-security facility.
On Monday, the state attorney general and the special prosecutors appointed to handle the case announced they would be challenging the legal reasoning behind the sentence in the Illinois Supreme Court — a move that, if successful, could significantly lengthen the former officer’s sentence.
After his conviction but before sentencing, Van Dyke was being held in isolation at a Quad Cities-area jail. The move was part of an arrangement Cook County has with other jails to move prisoners who are either high-profile, dangerous or working as cooperating witnesses in other cases.
And Van Dyke’s case was the highest-profile in Cook County. His murder charges came down the same day as the court-ordered release of graphic dashboard camera footage showing him shoot McDonald 16 times as the teen walked away from police holding a knife in his hand.
The video’s release more than a year after the October 2014 shooting led to months of protests and continuing political upheaval, and prompted a federal investigation of the Police Department that concluded officers routinely violated the civil rights of minorities.
Van Dyke isn’t the first high-profile ex-police officer from Illinois to be moved into federal custody, then allegedly attacked shortly after arrival.
One month after his transfer to a federal Indiana prison for security reasons, Drew Peterson was attacked in March 2017 by a fellow inmate armed with a food tray in the dining area, according to authorities at the time.
Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, was jumped in the chow hall of the maximum-security facility in Terre Haute. The convicted murderer was not seriously injured, and he was temporarily moved to segregated unit away from the prison’s general population after the incident.
Peterson, 65, was already serving a lengthy prison sentence for the murder of his third wife when a downstate Illinois judge sentenced him in summer 2016 to an additional 40 years in state prison for trying to hire someone to kill Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.
By that October, Illinois Department of Corrections officials began the process of moving Peterson from Menard Correctional Center in downstate Chester to federal custody. Peterson was transferred to the Terre Haute federal prison, where he remains, in late February 2017.
At the time, Illinois prison officials declined to discuss the reason for his transfer. Documents later obtained by the Tribune through an open records request showed the agency was concerned his actions in the murder-for-hire plot posed an ongoing safety and security threat.
Glasgow successfully prosecuted Peterson for the 2004 murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in October 2007. Authorities said Peterson is a suspect in her disappearance.
Peterson is eligible for parole in 2081.