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Judge: Bartender beaten by cop can take ‘code of silence’ claims to trial

Former Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate leaving court 2009 after he was sentenced two years probatifor beating up bartender KarolinObryckcaught-on-video

Former Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate leaving court in 2009 after he was sentenced to two years of probation for beating up bartender Karolina Obrycka in a caught-on-video attack that went viral. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 25, 2012 8:14AM

A jury can hear a bartender’s claim that Chicago Police officers engaged in a “code of silence” to protect a cop who beat her in a videotaped attack seen around the world, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve denied the city’s attempt to dismiss bartender Karolina Obrycka’s 2007 lawsuit against Chicago and former police Officer Anthony Abbate. But the judge did toss out one of the counts against the city.

The Feb. 19, 2007 incident happened while Obrycka was working at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn. Abbate, who was off duty, went behind the bar and punched and kicked Obrycka after she refused to serve him. Abbate was convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to two years’ probation.

In her ruling, St. Eve outlined evidence suggesting a code of silence among police after the incident and showing the city attempted a cover-up.

The judge noted responding officers Peter Masheimer and Jerry Knickrehm didn’t include in their initial report that Abbate was a police officer or that the incident was captured on the bar’s cameras. She said Abbate and his partner called other cops and detectives after the incident took place.

She also noted that city employee Gary Ortiz went back to the bar after the incident and “told Obrycka that Abbate had offered to pay for her medical bills and time off if she did not register a complaint or file a lawsuit against Abbate. The city concedes that Ortiz’s action was an attempted ‘bribe.’”

“A reasonable jury could infer that these numerous telephone calls and Officer Masheimer’s and Knickrehm’s conduct constituted an effort to protect Abbate from police brutality allegations or to cover up Abbate’s misconduct,” St. Eve wrote.

The Independent Police Review Authority found Masheimer and Knickrehm violated department rules, but it’s unclear whether they were disciplined. Ortiz wasn’t charged with a crime, officials say, and the city’s web site lists him as a $70,000-a-year truck driver for the Streets and Sanitation Department.

St. Eve also noted testimony from Steven Whitman, a statistician hired as an expert by Obrycka’s attorneys. Whitman found the rate of complaints of police brutality sustained by the police department was far lower in Chicago than in other cities.

Whitman found Chicago sustained as few as 0.5 percent of complaints in 2004, compared to a national average of 8 percent, according to a 2006 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the Grand-Central District, where the incident took place, not one of the 147 excessive force complaints filed between January 2005 and February 2007 was upheld.

Terry Ekl, Obrycka’s attorney, welcomed the chance to move ahead with the case. “The trial of this case will expose the extent to which the CPD will go to impede the proper investigation of police office misconduct,” he said.

City officials pointed out that the judge did not rule on the merits of the case but said “these issues should go before a jury.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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