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Can code of silence be proved?

Updated: November 24, 2012 6:24AM

Though long ago charged, convicted and ousted as a police officer for the videotaped beating of a female bartender, Anthony Abbate threatened Monday to give the Chicago Police Department yet another black eye.

This time Abbate is back in court as a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging that Chicago Police, including top brass, conspired to protect him from serious criminal charges after the incident as part of a widespread police “code of silence.”

That such a code of silence exists I have little doubt, and while not all pervasive, it’s certainly more common than anyone wants to admit.

It also wouldn’t shock me if at least some of Abbate’s fellow officers made an effort to run interference for him following the 2007 incident. I can sure remember the more benign “professional courtesy” that was extended to hustle Abbate out the back of the courtroom to save him from facing the cameras after the surveillance video from the bar first went viral.

Whether attorneys for bartender Karolina Obrycka will be able to prove in court the broad cover-up allegations they are alleging as part of an effort to protect CPD’s image is another matter.

For one thing, it’s still not entirely clear whether Obrycka’s lawyers have found anybody in blue willing to break the code of silence to shore up a mostly circumstantial case.

With his bleach-blonde client looking considerably more demure than the night a drunken and off-duty Abbate brutally punched and kicked her behind the bar of Jesse’s Shortstop Inn, lead plaintiff’s attorney Terry Ekl told a jury in U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve’s courtroom that Chicago Police officers “think they’re above the law.”

Ekl said the evidence will show the two police officers who responded to Obrycka’s call to the bar on the night of the attack failed to include Abbate’s last name in their report, even after she provided it, nor any mention that her assailant was a police officer or that the beating had been captured on videotape.

Those are pretty major omissions.

Attorney Matthew Hurd, representing the city, said the two officers wish they had included the information (each served a 30-day suspension for their failure) but that they were counting on detectives to cover that ground in their follow-up investigation.

Then again, they might have been hoping it would all blow over, and there never would be a followup investigation once somebody from the bar got a chance to explain the Chicago facts of life to Obrycka.

Ekl told jurors that hundreds of phone calls between Abbate, his friends, his CPD partner and other officers were part of the conspiracy. Hurd said Abbate was just “drunk-dialing” and never even told anyone what he’d done, let alone try to cover it up.

This is an important enough case that City Corporation Counsel Stephen R. Patton personally sat in the back of the courtroom to observe opening statements. With the city as a defendant, Chicago taxpayers will be on the hook for any monetary award to Obrycka resulting from the case.

The stakes for the city are raised considerably by the allegations of an attempt to protect Abbate.

Sticks to self-defense claim

If this were simply a matter of compensating Obrycka for the beating, we might safely assume this case would have been settled before now — even though the city is arguing that Abbate was acting as a civilian the night he beat Obrycka, a very drunk civilian, rather than as a police officer. (The only problem with that is that he was carrying on in the bar earlier, flexing his muscles theatrically while saying “Chicago Police Department.”)

Surprising to me, jurors showed almost no visible reaction while watching the video of the actual beating, even though it still makes me cringe.

On this video, you can better hear the sound, which for the first time allowed me to notice that Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was playing on the jukebox while the 265-pound Abbate was wailing away on the 115-pound Obrycka.

Abbate took the witness stand briefly Monday and stuck by his claim during his criminal trial that he struck Obrycka in self-defense when she caused him to hit his head against the wall while trying to hustle him out of her workspace.

Hurd, the city’s lawyer noted that Abbate fled the bar after pummeling Obrycka, because he realized he could be in trouble.

“If there was a code of silence, wouldn’t he have sat there?” Hurd asked.

Not necessarily.

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