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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chicago Police Liable for Coverup of Bar Assault

CHICAGO (CN) - A waitress viciously beaten by a Chicago cop on camera convinced a federal judge to uphold her claim that the police department orchestrated a coverup.

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.

Gary Ortiz, a city employee and friend of Abbate's, went to the bar and offered to pay Obrycka's medical bills if she did not press charges. "The city concedes that Ortiz's action was an attempted 'bribe,'" the judgment said.

It is unclear whether the State Attorney's Office in Cook County reviewed the video before charging 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 denied the city's motion for summary judgment last week, finding that Obrycka's expert witnesses had "presented evidence creating a genuine dispute as to the material fact that a code of silence exists within the Chicago Police Department."

Dr. Steven Whitman, Obrycka's statistics expert, opined that the percentage of excessive-force complaints upheld in Chicago are "statistically significantly lower than the national average sustained rates reported in the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2006 Citizens Complaints About Police Use of Force Report for the national average for all departments (8 percent) or the national average for larger departments like Chicago (6 percent)." (Parentheses in original.)

Whitman found that "the average sustained rate within the Chicago Police Department was as low as 0.5 percent in 2004." In 25th District of Chicago, where the incident occurred, "from January 2005 through February 2007, not one of the 147 excessive force complaints was sustained, and in the 11th and 20th Districts, the sustained rate was only 1.2 percent," according to a summary of Whitman's testimony.

"Moreover, other evidence in the record supports Obrycka's code of silence theory, including the fact that after Abbate punched and kicked Obrycka and realized that his conduct was videotaped, Abbate and his partner made dozens of telephone calls to each other and other Chicago police officers, including police detectives," St. Eve wrote. "Other evidence that supports the existence of a code of silence includes Officers Masheimer's and Knickrehm's failure to include in the final police report that Abbate was a police officer and that the attack was videotaped."

Citing Abbate's behavior that night, including flexing his biceps while yelling "Chicago Police Department," and his statement "nobody tells me what to do," St. Eve found that "a reasonable jury could conclude that based on Abbate's conduct, he was acting with impunity and in a manner in which he thought he was impervious to the consequences of his misconduct."

"In addition, after he attacked Obrycka, Abbate and his partner made numerous telephone calls to other Chicago police officers," the judge added. "A reasonable jury could infer that Abbate and his partner made these telephone calls to trigger the code of silence, namely, to initiate a cover-up of his misconduct."

Chicago does not have to indemnify Obrycka with regard to her due-process claim because "Abbate was not acting within the scope of his employment when he attacked her," the ruling states.

But Obrycka's conspiracy claims are another matter. "The city failed in its burden of establishing that there are no genuine disputes as to any material fact that Abbate was not acting within the scope of his employment," St. Eve wrote.

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