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Cop in ‘danger’ in bar brawl?

Anthony Abbate leaves Dirksen Federal Building after taking stfederal lawsuit accusing him trying cover up beating bartender KarolinObrycka. | Rich

Anthony Abbate leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after taking the stand in a federal lawsuit accusing him of trying to cover up beating of bartender Karolina Obrycka. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:18AM

It is the shocking barroom beating video that cost Officer Anthony Abbate his job — and gave the Chicago Police Department a black eye when it was seen around the world.

But three years after he was convicted of the brutal drunken attack on a barmaid less than half his weight, Abbate on Monday took to the stand in federal court and again insisted he was acting in self-defense when he repeatedly kicked and punched Karolina Obrycka at a Northwest Side tavern on Feb 19, 2007.

Asked if the beating was “just a fight between two people,” as he’d previously sworn, the bearded, 265-pound Bluto lookalike said “yes,” insisting he could remember almost nothing of the incident but reaffirming his previous claim that he was “in physical danger” from the 115-pound barmaid.

The former cop was testifying on the first day of a jury trial in a lawsuit brought by Obrycka, who alleges that Abbate and his fellow officers conspired to cover-up the crime under a blue “code of silence” that stretched from the street to the very top of the police department.

That conspiracy included Deborah Kirby — head of the police department’s Internal Affairs Division at the time but currently serving as the chief of International Relations — Obrycka’s attorney Terry Ekl charged in his opening statement.

“There is and was in 2007 a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department,” Ekl said, alleging that though Kirby’s job was to root out bad cops, she instead “orchestrated a series of events to ensure that Abbate would not be charged with a felony” and acted to ensure “that any misdemeanor case would be dropped.”

Lawyers for Abbate and the city admit Abbate’s actions were inexcusable but deny a cover-up. They argue that Abbate’s eventual felony conviction and firing shows that the system works.

“This case is not about Chicago Police Department policies and procedures — it’s about a guy who got drunk, sang songs, messed with other customers and beat up Karolina Obrycka,” said the city’s attorney, Matthew Hurd.

As the trial began Monday, the courtroom lights were dimmed so that jurors could watch clips from the infamous security camera footage. It shows a loutish, off-duty Abbate attack two friends inside Jesse’s Short Stop Inn, show off his muscles while boasting that he is “CPD,” then he goes behind the bar and savagely beat Obrycka, telling her “No one tells me what to do.”

Obrycka’s attorneys then showed the jury a list of more than 150 phone calls between Abbate, his friends and fellow officers in the hours that followed, saying they were evidence of a coordinated cover-up.

As part of the cover-up, Ekl alleged, Abbate’s pal Gary Ortiz told Obrycka that Abbate would pay her medical expenses and for any time off she needed. Ekl also alleged that Patti Chiriboga — another barmaid who was friends with Abbate — was taped saying Abbate had threatened to arrest bar staff and patrons for DUI or plant cocaine on them unless they handed over the security video.

As the cover-up spread to the Internal Affairs Division, Ekl alleged, Kirby downplayed the seriousness of the incident, directed her investigators to charge Abbate with only a misdemeanor, and to keep the date of Abbate’s court appearance from Obrycka so that the charge would be dropped.

But Hurd said Abbate had blacked out and was simply trying to reconstruct what he’d done when he made the calls after the beating. And Abbate’s attorney Michael Malatesta said the offer of cash to Obrycka was “nice,” adding that Chiriboga will testify she was lying about the threats Abbate allegedly passed on through her.

Hurd insisted that Kirby had pushed for felony charges all along but that it was up to the Cook County state’s attorney to decide whether to do so.

The charges were eventually upgraded to a felony only after the video was released to the media, sparking the widespread outrage that helped end Supt. Phil Cline’s police career.

Abbate’s testimony is due to continue when the trial resumes Tuesday.

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