Chicago ‘Code of Silence’ Verdict Will Stand

     CHICAGO (CN) – A woman who challenged a police code of silence in Chicago cannot vacate the judgment to settle privately with the city and avoid precedent, a federal judge ruled.
     Anthony Abbate Jr., an off-duty Chicago police officer, brutally attacked Karolina Obrycka in 2007, while she was bartending at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn.
     After Abbate drank heavily all night, repeatedly flexed his biceps and yelled “Chicago Police Department,” Obrycka refused to serve Abbate more alcohol. Abbate then went behind the bar and began punching and kicking her, allegedly telling Obrycka that “nobody tells me what to do.”
     Video cameras in the bar caught the entire altercation.
     Police who responded to Obrycka’s 911 call wrote up a police report that omitted several facts, including the existence of the tape or the fact that Abbate was a cop.
     Obrycka said Abbate later tried to intimidate her into giving him the videotape, implying that, otherwise, there would be problems for the bar and its employees. He allegedly said that there would be no case against him without the tape.
     A friend of Abbate’s who worked for the city then went to the bar and offered to pay Obrycka’s medical bills if she did not press charges. Chicago conceded this action was an attempted bribe.
     Eventually the State Attorney’s Office in Cook County charged Abbate with misdemeanor battery. An official with Internal Affairs allegedly told the lawyers that Abbate committed misdemeanor battery during a bar fight.
     Based on what she perceived to be the Chicago police department’s inaction, Obrycka released the videotape to the media in March. Shortly thereafter, Abbate was charged with aggravated battery and convicted in June 2009.
     In a civil complaint against Abbate and the Chicago, Obrycka claimed that city policies, through the conduct of the police officers who allegedly impeded the investigation of her battery, violated due process.
     U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve refused to grant the city summary judgment in February, and a jury awarded Obrycka $850,000.
     Shortly thereafter, the parties entered post-judgment settlement in which the city agreed to forego its right to appeal.
     This deal was conditioned, however, on a joint motion to vacate the judgment. It required the city agreed to pay Obrycka her damages award, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
     U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve denied the parties’ motion Thursday, although she agreed with Chicago that it is unclear whether the jury based its decision on Obrycka’s evidence of a police code of silence or her evidence that the city does not adequately investigate and/or discipline its officers.
     “Because the basis of the jury’s general verdict is ambiguous and because this case was highly fact specific, the issue preclusion public interest factor weighs in favor of vacatur,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, issues of judicial economy and integrity, along with the public’s interest in the precedential value of the judgment discussed above, outweigh this public interest factor.”
     Three days before the trial began, “when the court asked the city’s counsel one last time if settlement was a possibility based on Plaintiff’s low amount of itemized damages, counsel declined to participate in a settlement conference because the ‘case is a matter of principle.’ Indeed, there is a social value to the judgment, especially because of the constitutional issues involved.”
     St. Eve continued: “Accordingly, the judgment’s precedential value weighs against granting the parties’ motion to vacate the judgment.”

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