Karolina Obrycka, who was beaten by Anthony Abbate, an off-duty Chicago police officer, enters the Dirksen Federal Building to testify on Oct. 29. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:35AM
You know the video. It went viral from Joliet to Jakarta.
It was the 2007 attack by off-duty Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate, in a drunken rage, whaling on bartender Karolina Obrycka.
Now, in a civil case in federal court, the question is no longer whether he did it.
Abbate was convicted of felony battery and fired by the CPD though, thanks to a merciful Cook County judge, he was spared jail time.
The critical issue now, before a still-deliberating federal jury, is even bigger. It’s whether a “code of silence” exists in the Chicago Police Department that empowered Abbate to think that, whatever he did, he would be protected.
This is hardly the first time we’ve considered the code of silence. Think police scandals involving Jon Burge. Joe Miedzianowski. Jerome Finnigan.
The civil lawsuit brought by Obrycka carries haunting echoes of an April ruling issued by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Toomin in a different but eerily similar case.
Toomin wrote: “We have sworn testimony that is unrebutted undermining the veracity of police reports, contradicting reports . . . statements of witnesses incorrectly, inaccurately memorialized . . . the absence of recorded police activity in the inception of the case, delays, failure of the identification process, false reports and what I might term the ‘missing files syndrome’. . .”
The very same questionable law enforcement conduct that infected the Abbate/Obrycka case is what we have in the 2004 investigation of an altercation between 21-year-old David Koschman of Mount Prospect and Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko of Chicago. Vanecko is the grandson and namesake of late mayor Richard J. Daley and the nephew of former Richard M. Daley.
Koschman and his buddies were bar-hopping on Division Street when they ran into 29-year-old Vanecko and his friends. Words were exchanged. A single punch was thrown. It hurled Koschman backwards, his head crashing to the pavement. He died 11 days later.
Vanecko fled. Just like Abbate.
The cops filed remarkably incomplete reports of the incident. As they did with Abbate.
Files went missing. Ditto in the Abbate case.
In Koschman, there were video cameras all along Rush and Division, but cops claimed they didn’t gather that evidence. We now know investigators suspect that tapes still exist.
In the Abbate case, the Department had Obrycka sign a blank misdemeanor complaint even though they already were aware of the horrific video. But in court last week, CPD supervisors fell all over themselves claiming they had always wanted it charged as a felony.
City officials, in both cases, cite bureaucratic snafus but never, ever any willful coverup. And certainly not, heaven forbid, a code of silence.
A jury will decide what really happened in the Abbate/Obrycka case.
Meanwhile Dan Webb, the special prosecutor appointed by Judge Toomin, will report his own findings in the Koschman case in the coming months.
It’s a case in which the CPD never questioned Vanecko. Never charged him. And until the Chicago Sun-Times began asking questions two years ago, never thought they’d have to explain.