A federal judge on Friday ordered the pretrial release of accused eco-saboteur Joseph M. Dibee as soon as he tests negative for COVID-19.
“It has become untenable for him to review discovery and in helping counsel prepare for trial,” U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said. “I think this is the most appropriate manner to move this case forward.”
Dibee, 53, learned he had tested positive for the coronavirus after he was tested Dec. 21 in Inverness Jail, only at the urging of his defense lawyer Matthew Schindler who had reported to the court that Dibee was ill and had lost his sense of taste and smell. He began suffering flu-like symptoms just days after the jail had moved him out of the medical unit to another unit against the judge’s direction.
Dibee had been in the medical unit, recovering from a broken jaw he had suffered during an assault from another inmate at the jail in January 2020. He underwent surgery but has not received the necessary physical therapy to repair his jaw, the judge noted.
The judge said she was “really disturbed” by the medical issues at the jail, considering that she had received weekly status reports that no one in the jail had contracted coronavirus, and learned only of Dibee’s positive test when she ordered he be tested after his lawyer requested it. After that, the jail reported a second inmate also had tested positive.
“I’m very concerned whether I’ve been getting accurate information about the status of the health of inmates at Inverness,” Aiken said.
Multnomah County has reported seven positive cases among inmates at the Multnomah County Detention Center and two in Inverness Jail, which includes Dibee. Thirty-two of 800 Multnomah County Sheriff Office employees have tested positive for the coronavirus across seven locations, according to the county.
This marks the second time Aiken has ordered Dibee’s release pending trial. He was arrested in August 2018 in Cuba, a fugitive for 12 years accused in a string of environmental sabotage across the West.
On Dec. 18, 2019, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Aiken’s release order for Dibee, six days after she had allowed for his pretrial release to live with his sister in Seattle. He was out for less than a week when he surrendered to federal authorities in Seattle and returned to custody in Portland.
This time, Aiken ordered Dibee to be released to his sister’s home in Seattle and quarantined there once he tests negative for COVID-19. He’ll be under GPS monitoring and home detention with special monitoring software installed on his computer and phone. After his quarantine, he can live with and care for his father, who is suffering from a terminal illness, the judge said.
Until Dibee tests negative, Aiken also ordered the sheriff’s office not to move Dibee out of Inverness Jail’s medical unit.
Dibee appeared by video for Friday’s hearing before Aiken. He said he still has shortness of breath and could be heard coughing during the hearing. He said he no longer has the flu-like symptoms he had at the end of last year.
His Syrian passport and Russian residency papers have expired, and he has no other documents that would permit his travel abroad, attorneys told the judge.
“Given the more recent information regarding defendant’s inability to travel or return to Russia, his desire to see this case to resolution, the need for him manage his medical conditions, and his commitment to care for his dying father, the Court finds that this factor weighs in favor of release,” Aiken wrote in a written opinion that followed her ruling from the bench.
The judge noted that nearly two-and-a-half years have passed since Dibee’s arrest and he hasn’t been able to complete even an initial review of the discovery evidence in the case with his lawyer.
Dibee was arrested on a 12-years-old federal warrant after he was held in Cuba based on an Interpol notice on the U.S. arrest warrants.
Federal prosecutors say he fled the United States days after he and his lawyer met with prosecutors and an FBI agent in Seattle on Dec. 7, 2005, and learned of the evidence against him that allegedly linked him to arsons in Oregon and elsewhere. On that day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office wanted to see if Dibee would accept responsibility for his alleged offenses and cooperate with authorities, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow has said in court.
Instead, Dibee returned home, destroyed evidence in the case by setting it on fire in his fireplace and then had a friend drive him to Mexico City, Barrow said. From there, he flew to Beirut, Lebanon, and then set up residence in Syria. He moved to Russia in 2010, where he later married and adopted a son, according to Barrow.
He never surrendered though he knew he had been indicted in 2006 in Oregon on charges of arson, conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility. Dibee is accused of helping to destroy the Cavel West Inc. meatpacking plant in Redmond on July 1, 1997, and destroying a Bonneville Power Administration tower near Bend on Dec. 30, 1999, though his attorney said Dibee didn’t play a role in the tower vandalism and called that charge “bogus.”
He also faces charges of conspiracy to commit arson and possession of a destructive device in federal court in Washington and conspiracy to commit arson, arson of a government building and possession of a destructive device during a crime of violence in California.