Chicago Sued for Shielding Cop Convicted in Barroom Beating
A civil trial began this week for a woman who was brutally beaten by an off-duty Chicago police officer in 2007. Karolina Obrycka is suing the city, alleging that police conspired to protect Anthony Abbate after the former officer was caught on camera repeatedly punching and kicking Obrycka behind the bar where she worked.
Abbate was sentenced to probation for aggravated battery in 2009 and was fired from the police force. The lawsuit alleges that Abbate’s police buddies attempted to orchestrate an elaborate coverup after the beating, including trying to underplay its significance, not performing a thorough investigation and threatening Obrycka and other witnesses to keep their mouths shut.
Attorneys charge that the police didn’t take the accusations against Abbate seriously until the shocking video footage of the attack was released to the media. Former Chicago police Superintendent Phil Cline resigned in the aftermath of the public backlash.
Matthew Hurd, defending the city, called the former cop a drunken idiot but insisted that his actions didn’t reflect on police force policy. “Abbate was not thinking, ‘I am a police officer. I’ll get away with this.’ He was a man at a bar getting drunk,” Hurd told the court.
On the witness stand, Abbate denied that the thought he could act with impunity because he was a police officer. “My brain wasn’t working at all at the time,” he said. “It was pretty much a blackout that night.”
Policy and Practice
If the city is to be found liable for Abbate’s attack, with potentially millions of dollars on the line, Obrycka’s attorneys need to prove that the culture on the police force contributed to his actions or mindset. “The city of Chicago is not liable just because it was a police officer that did something,” says Basileios J. Foutris of Foutris Law, a Chicago law firm that specializes in police misconduct cases. “It comes down to something called policy and practice.”
There are several ways that the plaintiff’s lawyers could try to show municipal accountability for the actions of one drunken idiot. “If the police department failed to train police officers and they acted unconstitutionally, the city could be liable,” Foutris explains. “Another way might be that they have a custom or practice of allowing unconstitutional behavior to go on.”
In the Abbate case, the lawyers are arguing that the police force’s unofficial policy of protecting its own gave the officer a tacit green light to commit battery. “From what I understand, [the argument] is there’s a code of silence and an unconstitutional behavior, and you’re allowing police officers to go around and beat people up with no consequence,” says Foutris. “The idea is the city knows police officers are doing this, and when it happens not only do they not investigate, but they circle the wagons and protect the police officer.”
Foutris notes that policy and practice arguments can be difficult to prove, but if the attorneys can show a pattern of complaints against police that aren’t sustained, or prove that this particular incident was not properly investigated, they may be able to sway the jury. “It’s very difficult, but it can be done,” he says.
Initially, Abatte, who weighs 265 pounds, said that he acted in self defense when he went behind the bar and brutalized the 115 pound woman. After he viewed the video tape in court, he retracted that claim.