Bartender beaten by drunken Chicago cop wins $850,000 verdict
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org November 13, 2012 5:30PM
Karolina Obrycka smiles after a federal jury awarded her $850,000 in compensatory damages against the city of Chicago Tuesday November 13, 2012. She was beaten by off-duty Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate in 2007 at the bar where she worked as a bartender. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: December 15, 2012 6:27AM
His fellow officers painted him as a rogue cop — a violent drunkard whose isolated off-duty actions disgraced the Chicago Police Department.
But the City of Chicago itself and its police culture was to blame for Anthony Abbate’s notorious videotaped beating of bartender Karolina Obrycka, a federal jury has found.
The landmark verdict against the city and Abbate means they will have to pay a stunned but delighted Obrycka $850,000 in damages.
It also establishes, her lawyers say, what police brass have denied for decades — that a “code of silence” protecting cops who commit crimes runs all the way from the street to the top of the police department.
“We proved a code of silence at every level in the Chicago Police Department,” Terry Ekl said of the jury’s finding that there was a “widespread and persistent” code of silence or policy of inadequately investigating police misconduct.
The verdict at the end of a three-week long trial marked a conclusion to a five year-long saga that had already seen Abbate convicted of aggravated battery and cost Phil Cline, the Police Superintendent at the time of the 2007 attack, his job.
The jury found that the police culture of impunity was “a moving force” in causing 265 pound Abbate to attack tiny Polish immigrant Obrycka as she worked behind the bar at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn on the Northwest Side. Abbate attacked Obrycka in part because he believed that, as a cop, he would never be punished, the jury found.
Obrycka, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and problems in her marriage following the savage beating, appeared overwhelmed by her victory.
“I’m speechless,” she said as she emerged from the courtroom. “I’m very happy that justice was served. It’s finally over.”
But Abbate — who was accused of threatening to plant drugs on Obrycka and her colleagues, and found to have illegally conspired with pals and fellow officers to try to get hold of the video of the attack before it went viral online — was relaxed enough to crack a joke.
Asked outside the courtoom where the $850,000 will come from, Abbate quipped, “I think I got a Visa card in my wallet.”
In practice, Obrycka’s attorneys say, it’s the city that will foot the bill.
City attorneys — fearful that the verdict could open the floodgates for other claims against off-duty officers — aren’t keen to do so.
In a statement issued by law department spokesman Roderick Drew, the city again placed the entire blame for the attack on Abbate, saying “The City of Chicago respectfully disagrees with the jury’s decision that the city is responsible for Mr. Abbate’s attack on Ms. Obrycka, and we intend to challenge that verdict through post-trial motions in the trial court, and if necessary, on appeal.”
During the trial, attorneys for the city had attempted to limit the effect of embarrassing testimony from police officers, saying the “series of gotcha moments” was evidence of incompetence and bureaucracy, not a coordinated cover-up, as Obrycka’s attorneys claimed.
But they faced an uphill task, given that Abbate wasn’t charged with a felony for weeks, until around the time the video of the attack was released to the media.
Two officers who responded to the bar the night of the attack but failed to include Abbate’s name, the fact that he was a cop and that there was a video in their police report, were taken in excruciating detail through video footage that clearly showed they were told all three facts within an hour of the beating on the second and third day of the trial.
And Deputy Chief Keith Calloway, detailed to attend a meeting with prosecutors a few days after the attack, vehemently testified that his officers never had Obrycka sign a misdemeanor complaint against Abbate, even though three officers and Obrycka herself stated otherwise.
Perhaps even worse, Debra Kirby — a high-profile cop who lead the Internal Affairs Division at the time — saw her account of the police probe of Abbate directly contradicted by a sergeant, and a top Cook County prosecutor who said Kirby never made a phone call pushing for felony charges against Abbate, as Kirby claimed.
Following the verdict Tuesday, Ekl called Kirby’s actions “reprehensible,” alleging she had directed a cover-up.
“If it was up to me, I’d fire her today,” he said of the woman who now leads the police department’s Bureau of Professional Development and was last year shortlisted to replace former Supt. Jody Weis.
But the city drew some comfort from the fact that Obrycka’s attorneys dropped a conspiracy count against the city during the trial.
And Ekl’s insistence that “change has to come from the Mayor’s office” if the police code of silence is to be cracked was rejected by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“The Mayor is confident that Superintendent McCarthy and his leadership team have not, and would not, approve of, let alone participate in, a code of silence,” spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said in a statement.
“And to the extent there are members of the department who have a different view, the Mayor is confident that McCarthy and his team will deal with that.”
For Abbate’s part, his attorney Michael Malatesta said that the verdict was not a surprise.
“We’ve all seen the video,” he said. “I think it was hard for the jurors to see past that.”
And Ekl added, “Without the video there wouldn’t be a case — Abbate would still be a police officer.”
Contributing: Becky Schlikerman, Mitch Dudek