Daily Bulletin, Mar. 7, 2003
By FELISA CARDONA and VINCE LOVATO, STAFF WRITERS
VICTORVILLE — Federal prison officials were criticized Thursday for placing American Taliban John Walker Lindh at risk in the general population because of his notoriety.
Walker Lindh was attacked during prayer by one or more white supremacists Monday night at the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville where he has been imprisoned since January.
“To release him so soon into the general population is not good prison practice,” said Terry Pelz, an independent criminal justice consultant and expert witness on prison gangs and operations.
Walker Lindh should have been segregated for at least two more years before prison management considered the move, said Pelz, who was an assistant warden in the Texas Department of Corrections for 10 years.
A spokesman for the California Department of Correction agreed. Lt. Russ Heimerich said that in California state institutions, high-profile inmates would not be moved into general population at the request of an inmate’s attorney if prison authorities felt it was too risky.
“Had this been in a California state prison, we would not have done that,” Heimerich said.
Anthony West, one of Walker Lindh’s attorneys, said he visited Walker Lindh on Wednesday.
In a prepared statement, West said, “… as he prepared for an evening prayer, John was attacked by another inmate. Our understanding is that the inmate tackled John and began hitting him while screaming obscenities before running off. The incident lasted several seconds. Prison officials later apprehended the inmate.”
Since Monday’s attack, Walker Lindh has been in protective custody.
West said Walker Lindh was in “very good spirits.”
FBI officials confirmed Thursday that Walker Lindh, 21, was roughed up and suffered a bruise on his head.
The FBI would not release specifics about their investigation but spokeswoman Laura Bosley said there was no initial indication it was racially motivated.
If he was attacked for his beliefs, it could be classified as a hate crime.
Prison sources said Walker Lindh was mainstreamed because his attorney requested it. It allowed him to work as an orderly, where guards could keep an eye on him.
He is serving a 20-year term for supplying services to the Taliban and carrying a rifle and two grenades while fighting against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
A prison source said Muslim inmates had been protecting Walker Lindh because they believed he was a hero. The Muslims apparently stopped protecting him because they decided he was not a radical dissident.
Pelz said the attack could have happened for a variety of reasons, but most likely because white supremacists see themselves as pro-white America.
Experts agree if Monday’s attack on Walker Lindh was a hate crime he will continue to be in danger from more destructive attacks by white supremacist gang members who consider him a race traitor.