The Chicago Police Department has been found guilty of covering up the beating of a female bartender by a city police officer, and was criticized for honoring a "code of silence" in which officers cover up for one another's misdeeds.
Bartender Karina Obrycka was awarded $850,000 by a federal jury on Tuesday.
Obrycka sued the police department and former police officer Anthony Abbate for a 2007 incident in which Abbate jumped behind her bar at Jesse's Shortstop Inn and, when reprimanded by Obrycka, assaulted her.
The altercation was caught on surveillance tape, but Chicago police officers ignored the tape's existence and failed to mention in their police report that the assailant was a city cop. Obrycka's attorney presented evidence, including hundreds of phone calls between Abbate and other cops in the hours after the incident, that convinced the jury there was a widespread effort to cover up the attack.
Abbate was eventually charged and found guilty of felony battery and lost his job. On Tuesday, however, a federal jury went farther, condemning the entire police department as well as Abbate for covering up the crime.
The jury awarded Obrycka $850,000, validating the bartender's claims that Abbate conspired with other cops after the assault, and that higher-ups at the department tried to keep the case quiet, according to ABC News affiliate WLS.
The city of Chicago said in a statement after the verdict that it "respectfully disagrees" and intends to appeal the decision.
Obrycka's attorney, Terry Ekl, said that the Chicago Police Department must make changes to how it operates now that the code of silence has been recognized by a court of law. He put the onus on the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.
"The question now becomes, 'What are they going to do about it?'" he said. "If there's going to be change, it has to come from the mayor's office."
Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has studied the code of silence in Chicago, agreed.
"The bulk of the Chicago Police Department isn't made up of officers who go around beating up bar maids and pummeling them gratuitously for no reason or in drunken rage. It's not what the vast majority of officers do," he said.
"Still, it's something that departments as a whole and police leadership tends to shy away from. I think the best police leaders try to take it head on, and they do have those conversations about what needs to be done, but they need to have support not just in the police department, but from the mayor, too. When you're dealing with an entrenched culture, the rank and file can just wait out that person," Futterman said.
Emanuel's office released a statement saying that he believes Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will end the code of silence.
"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. 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," the mayor's office said.
McCarthy also released a statement saying he would not tolerate a code of silence in the department.
"The Chicago Police Department does not tolerate misconduct by our members and vigorously investigates all instances that are brought to our attention or discovered internally," the statement read. "Furthermore, I will never tolerate a code of silence in a department for which I am responsible."
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