By Bob Negele
In 2007, a female bartender was brutally beaten by a drunk off-duty Chicago police officer. The entire assault was caught on tape. Now, the city of Chicago is on the hook for $850,000.
According to a report by ABC, the verdict may be indicative of a systemic problem in Chicago police: a code of silence.
This alleged code of silence helps explain how the city of Chicago can be liable to a person who was brutally beaten by an off-duty police officer. Normally, the actions of an off-duty police officer (or any employee) that has no relation to their official position, or under the color of their position, would not result in liability against the city.
This aspect made the trial unique, as it was focused on whether there is an ingrained code of silence. Most of the two and a half week trial focused on this aspect (the fact that former police officer Anthony Abbate beat the bartender was very apparent from the video).
According to the report, “jurors not only found that other officers and Abbate’s superiors tried to cover up the attack at Jesse’s Short Stop Inn, but they concluded that Abbate’s knowledge of his fellow officers’ willingness to cover him created an environment that led to the attack on Obrycka [the bartender].”
The core question the jury had to deal with was, “whether the police culture emboldened him and led him to act with impunity in attacking her.”
The defense tried to argue that there was no evidence of a code of silence. Abbate was, the defense points out, charged and convicted for the beating in 2009. However, Abbate was only convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to probation (i.e., no jail time).
The plaintiff brought in Debra Kirby to help refute the claim that the system worked because Abbate was convicted. Kirby was the head of the department’s internal affairs division at the time and, “testified that she recommended during a phone call with Cook County prosecutors three days after the beating that Abbate be charged with a serious felony.”
Kirby’s internal affairs detective, Joseph Stehlik, claimed to have been in the room for this phone call and claims that Kirby recommended the lesser charge which Abbate received.
The city plans of challenging the verdict. The fact that Abbate was off-duty makes a $850,000 verdict hard for the city to swallow.
Regardless of how the appeals go, reports are that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suggested that anyone participating in a code of silence will face stiff consequences. The police force in Chicago cannot work for peace and justice if it attempts to keep its own guilty members free. It seems this verdict sends that message loud and clear.