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Chicago Police Hit with Big Judgment and “Code of Silence” Finding

Chicago Police have a difficult and dangerous job, but also a heavy responsibility to hold themselves accountable to follow the same laws they are sworn to uphold. In the case of Karolina Obrycka, a diminutive tavern employee, they failed to measure up. In a federal lawsuit alleging violation of her constitutional rights by a member of the Police Department, she ended up winning a jury verdict of $850,000 that captured the attention of a city.

Confronted by an intoxicated off-duty Chicago cop by the name of Anthony Abbate, Jr. at her job at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn on February 19, 2007, she was pummeled when she refused to serve him additional drinks and asked him to leave. Unfortunately for Abbate and the reputation of the Chicago Police Department, the whole incident was caught on security tape at the neighborhood tavern, and found its way onto the evening news after department investigators failed to immediately charge Abbate with a crime. He finally was charged with aggravated battery, found guilty, and received two years probation.

The case highlighted not only the misadventures of a drunk cop, but also laid bare the “code of silence” that has long shielded Chicago Police from accountability for their actions. Obrycka in her district court complaint had alleged a conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(2) and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 conspiracy based upon on the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

According to the decision of the District Court, Judge St. Eve presiding, the jury entered specific findings, after a two and a half week trial, that the “City of Chicago had an…official policy,… custom or practice, that was the moving force behind Defendant Abbate’s conduct in the bar when he physically beat (Obrycka), …and that after the physical assault in the bar, Defendant Abbate and others entered into a conspiracy to violate Obrycka’s constitutional right to freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

In an unusual development after the verdict, after the City of Chicago promised to speed up the usual lengthy process of paying their judgment, the City and Obrycka asked the court to set aside the finding, which would have made the “code of silence” finding less probative in future incidents of police brutality. The court, however, citing the briefs of the University of Chicago Mandel Legal Aid Clinic and Northwestern University School of Law MacArthur Justice Center’s amicus briefs, found that since the “judgment in this case has ramifications for society at large, (and) not just the City’s litigation strategies,” the judgment and finding would stand unaltered. See: Obrycka v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. IL), Case No. 1:07-cv-02372; 2012 WL 6642354.

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Related legal case

Obrycka v. City of Chicago