Chicago police culture on trial in beating case
CHICAGO (AP) — Allegations of a culture in which Chicago police jump to protect fellow officers accused of wrongdoing are at the heart of a federal civil trial that began Monday, pitting the victim of a barroom beating by an off-duty officer against the city.
The trial stems from the 2007 pummeling of bartender Karolina Obrycka by then-police officer Anthony Abbate, who was the first witness called to the stand.
The attack, for which Abbate was convicted of aggravated battery in 2009 and sentenced to probation, was captured on a security video that went viral nationwide. Shortly afterward, the city's police superintendent announced his retirement and the department vowed to clean up its image.
In his opening statement, Obrycka's attorney, Terry Ekl, told jurors the beating highlighted an insidious, deeply entrenched culture in which city officials refuse to hold officers accountable, thereby emboldening police to violate individuals' rights.
"Officers routinely cover up the misconduct of other officers," Ekl told the Chicago courtroom. "We call it a 'code of silence. ... Misconduct without consequences."
As the city's lead attorney, Matthew Hurd, stepped up to address jurors, he launched immediately into a scathing attack of Abbate. But Hurd also insisted Abbate wasn't acting as a police officer on the night of the beating — but was acting on his own behalf as a drunken "idiot."
"This case is simple," Hurd said. "It is not about Chicago police policy and procedures. ... It's about a guy who got drunk ... and beat up Karolina Obrycka."
Abbate was eventually charged with a felony and fired, the attorney told the nine female and three male jurors.
"The system works," Hurd said, adding that city officials and police "are out there doing good, getting bad cops off the street — bad cops who give the department a black eye."
Obrycka's attorney played the security video of the heavyset, 6-foot-1 Abbate walking behind the bar and repeatedly punching and kicking the petite bartender. Just before the attack, he can be seen flexing his muscles and yelling, "Nobody tells me what to do."
When he testified Monday, Abbate answered questions with a monotone yes or no. Obrycka sat with her head turned to a wall as he spoke and never appeared to look at him.
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