CHICAGO (CN) – A waitress brutally beaten by a Chicago police officer in 2007 will be allowed to submit some expert testimony on a citywide “code of silence” regarding police misconduct, a federal judger ruled.
Karolina Obrycka said she was attacked in February 2007 while working as a bartender-waitress at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn in Chicago. According to the court’s description of Obrycka’s complaint, “Defendant Officer Abbate – an off-duty Chicago police officer who had been drinking at the bar that evening approached Plaintiff after she refused to serve him additional alcoholic beverages. With no warning, Defendant Officer Abbate proceeded to viciously beat, kick, and punch Plaintiff.”
The abuse did not end there. “Plaintiff alleges specific facts which, she contends, unequivocally demonstrate that the City conducted a sham investigation into the incident, in bad faith, and designed to protect Defendant Officer Abbate.”
Obrycka also claims that “the City has de facto policies and practices of concealing officer misconduct, of failing to sufficiently investigate allegations of officer misconduct, and of investigating complaints against off-duty police officers differently than it investigates complaints against other citizens.”
These policies allegedly allow officers to abuse citizens “with impunity and without fear of official consequences.”
In recent weeks, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve rejected Chicago’s attempts to sideline two witnesses proffered by Obrycka.
Dr. Steven Whitman, a statistician and epidemiologist, authored an expert report for the plaintiff, analyzing data regarding officer misconduct and complaints against the Chicago police.
Whitman’s report states that “the probability of an excessive force complaint being sustained in the City is very low,” and that “the situation is even gloomier than these data would suggest.”
He focused on the variable of whether a given complaint rendered against the police was “sustained” or dismissed.
“Dr. Whitman […] observes that the ‘true’ sustained rate is likely considerably lower than his calculations suggest due to citizens underreporting complaints and the Police Board’s frequent reversals of ‘sustained’ findings,” according to St. Eve’s June 29 decision.
Data regarding police charged with driving under the influence also points toward “a code of silence,” Whitman found.
“He arrives at this conclusion because, in his opinion, ‘the most likely explanation for so few arrests is that off-duty CPD officers are pulled over for DUI and then let go when the potential arresting officer finds out that the potential DUI driver is also an officer,'” St. Eve wrote.
The judge did sustain part of Chicago’s attack on Whitman’s credentials and findings.
In a lengthy discussion of Whitman’s data-gathering and analytic methods, as well as his conclusion that a “code of silence” exists within the Chicago Police Department, St. Eve excluded the expert’s qualitative conclusions.
“Dr. Whitman has no education, training, or professional experience in criminology” in spite of his “impressive credentials and experience as a biostatistician and epidemiologist.”
“By his own admission, he knows nothing about police departments, police misconduct, investigations into police misconduct, or the process by which the CPD disciplines its police officers,” St. Eve wrote.
Obrycka can still rely on Whitman’s quantitative data in part, the judge ruled.
St. Eve upheld Whitman’s findings regarding sustained rates of investigations into police misconduct in various police districts “[b]ecause [he] based his analyses … on reliable evidence and arrived at reasonably informed estimates.”
Whitman will also be allowed to use on a federal Department of Justice report titled “Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force,” which “presents data on citizen complaints about use of force and complaint dispositions in large [police] agencies.”
About a week after ruling on Whitman’s testimony, the judge decided that Obrycka could also submit expert testimony from Lou Reiter, a police practices consultant and former officer of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Reiter opined that “the CPD has created an organizational environment where the Code of Silence and deficient administrative investigations and disciplinary procedures are present and would allow police officers to engage in misconduct with little fear of sanction. This adverse environment … is the product of acts and/or omissions by the Police Department to conduct itself in a manner contrary to reasonable and generally accepted police practices.
“These observations were similar to those I’ve made in past cases involving the Chicago Police Department,” Reiter concluded.
Noting the consultant’s “impressive background that includes twenty years as a member of the [LAPD],” St. Eve rejected Chicago’s motion to exclude his testimony on grounds of relevance and reliability.
The judge noted that arguments of bias fall flat against Reiter who has testified as an expert witness for Chicago in past police-misconduct lawsuits and also rejected some of Obrycka’s other expert data.
“This is not the behavior of someone who is simply ‘adopting’ or ‘parroting’ Plaintiff’s counsel’s opinions in his report,” St. Eve wrote on July 5.