Oregon judge ends pre-trial custody of Joseph Dibee, who faces decades old eco-terrorism charges

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Jan. 9, 2021 2 p.m. Updated: Jan. 9, 2021 7:01 p.m.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken said during a hearing Friday she would release Joseph Dibee from pre-trial custody. Dibee, who is currently housed in Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail, is a federal inmate charged as part of an eco-terrorism conspiracy to destroy government property by arson.

Days before Christmas, Dibee tested positive for COVID-19, which Aiken said was part of her reason for releasing him. His positive test came after jail staff moved Dibee in mid-December from the jail’s medical facility, where he was staying to recover after surgery to repair his jaw that was injured after he was attacked by another inmate.


“He’ll be released when he gets a negative [COVID-19] test,” Aiken said Friday. “I’m disappointed I don’t have a test [result] today.”

As of Monday morning, jail records showed Dibee was still in custody.

Dibee is charged as a member of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, groups that were active during the 1990s. Dibee’s charges stem from the 1997 arson of the Cavel West horse meatpacking plant in Redmond. The group’s most famous arson was the 1998 destruction of the Two Elk Lodge in Vail, Colorado.

Dibee has been in federal custody since his August 2018 arrest in Cuba while traveling on a Syrian passport. He was flown to Portland where he was arraigned on the charges. Apart from a brief release in late 2019, Dibee has remained in the county’s jails.

Aiken said another reason she was ordering his release was so the case could proceed with Dibee and his attorney, Matt Schindler, working through the many volumes of discovery evidence.


“This case is also undoubtedly complex,” Aiken said in her written order. “It is distinct from many other cases before the Court, given the sheer volume of discovery and complex legal issues involved. Approximately two decades have passed since the alleged criminal conduct, and there are thousands of pages of discovery to be unearthed, reorganized, and reviewed by defendant.”

Aiken added during Friday’s hearing that she did not believe Dibee was a flight risk.

“He has no documents of any kind,” Schindler told OPB. “All his documents, all of his papers, all of his luggage disappeared after he was arrested [in Cuba]. Maybe the government has it.”

During Friday’s video hearing, Dibee wore a mask and said he was still short of breath.

“The flu symptoms are gone,” he said. “I’m tired and I have a persistent cough. But I haven’t been tested one way or another after my positive test.”

For weeks, the Multnomah County jail reported no cases of COVID-19. Aiken questioned during Friday’s hearing whether the jail was being truthful with her about its COVID-19 cases.

Prior to Friday’s hearing, corrections medical staff told the U.S. Marshals Service it had been more than 14 days since Dibee tested positive and believed he could be released from the medical unit to another part of the jail, a representative of the U.S. Marshals told Aiken during the hearing. But Aiken ordered the jail to keep Dibee in the medical unit until he tested negative, and then release him from pre-trial custody.

“He’s entitled to that medical care,” Aiken said.

Dibee will be released to his sister’s home in Seattle and will be subject to GPS monitoring and other supervised release requirements. In 2019, Aiken released Dibee from pre-trial custody, but federal prosecutors appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned her ruling and order him back to the jail. Prosecutors said Friday they didn’t know if they would appeal this release order.