A federal judge Monday was incensed to learn that accused eco-saboteur Joseph Mahmoud Dibee was assaulted by another inmate at Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail this month, required surgery and prosecutors first learned of the attack from Dibee’s defense lawyer more than one week later.
“I’m extremely disturbed about what happened,’’ U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said in federal court in Portland. “This should not have happened.’’
Another inmate with suspected ties to white supremacists came from behind and “sucker punched’’ Dibee, breaking his jaw and another bone in his face, Dibee’s lawyer Paul Hood reported to the judge.
The other inmate may have attacked Dibee, thinking he was a terrorist from the Middle East, Hood said. Authorities have not said whether new charges were filed against the other inmate, who was not identified.
The attack occurred on Jan. 2, and Dibee was taken to OHSU Hospital for surgery. He’s now back in the medical unit at Inverness Jail.
“His mouth is wired shut,’’ Hood told the court.
The judge said she’s “extremely worried’’ about Dibee’s safety and singled out the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for being responsible for his care while he awaits trial in a federal arson case.
Aiken said she could not believe that protective measures weren’t taken to ensure Dibee’s safety behind bars, and that no one from the sheriff’s office or the U.S. Marshals Service informed the U.S. Attorney’s Office that one of their defendants was so seriously injured behind bars.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow said he first learned of the assault Friday from Dibee’s lawyer. He then contacted the U.S. Marshals Service, which obtained a report from the sheriff’s office.
Aiken urged the government to take immediate steps to ensure Dibee’s safety and suggested he be moved to another jail.
“This is a huge concern and goes into the decision I have to make on where he’s safest,’’ the judge said.
Aiken still has not ruled on whether she’ll keep Dibee, 52, in custody pending trial or allow his release again after the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals overturned her Dec. 13 decision that led to Dibee’s brief release from custody.
Dibee was arrested in August 2018 on a 12-years-old federal warrant, after being a fugitive for those dozen years and remaining out of the United States. Aiken released Dibee from custody the night of Dec. 13, and allowed him to live with his sister in Seattle under home detention with GPS monitoring. Five days later, he turned himself back into authorities, after a three-member federal appeals court panel on Dec. 18 ordered that Dibee be returned to custody and directed Aiken to reconsider her ruling.
During a hearing late last month, Dibee’s lawyer urged Aiken to stand by her earlier release decision, arguing again that Dibee is a changed man and will abide by the conditions of his release pending trial.
“You got to size him up. The 9th Circuit hasn’t done that,’’ Hood argued, speaking of Dibee who addressed the judge in length at his initial release hearing on Dec. 13. “And you found he’s a different person.’’
The prosecutor countered that Dibee should remain behind bars pending trial, because “he chose to run,’’ by fleeing the United States in 2005.
Dibee is accused of taking part in a string of environmental sabotage across the West.
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, Barrow said.
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, Oregon, 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.
In August 2018, Dibee was held in Cuba based on an Interpol notice on the U.S. arrest warrants. At the time, he had a Syrian passport in his Arab Syrian name, “Yousef Deba,’’ and was traveling back to Russia from El Salvador, his lawyer said.
Though he was given the opportunity to cooperate with the government in 2005, “he chose to run. … He ran from his past,’’ Barrow said in court last month.
Dibee’s lawyer has argued that his client is like the other co-defendants in this case: people who were ideologically motivated “but over time learned the error of their ways.’’ While in Syria, Dibee jeopardized his own safety by calling U.S. prosecutors from his apartment on June 7, 2011, to inform them of a potential terrorist threat against Israel, his lawyer said in court.
In an earlier December hearing, Dibee spent at least 10 minutes describing to the judge how he’s changed his philosophy and has used his engineering skills to try to develop environmental-friendly alternatives to industrial mining and was developing a solar thermal power project during his time in Syria.