The Village of Oak Lawn has launched an internal investigation of an off-duty police officer accused of attacking a grandmother over a disputed bill at a Hooters restaurant and the police response when he called for backup on his radio.
The probe comes after a civil suit was filed Wednesday and after the coming forth of several witnesses who tell NBC Chicago that it appears other responding officers protected their brother in blue.
"If something happens with any employee, yes, the mayor wants to know. All of us want to know, so our job now is before we point any fingers is to sit down and figure out what exactly happened several months ago," Oak Lawn Mayor David Heilmann said Thursday.
A security camera inside the Oak Lawn restaurant captured the Jan. 10 incident. In it, 54-year-old paralegal Livier Torres can be seen approaching the counter to dispute a charge on her bill. Also seen are the restaurant's manager and the off-duty Oak Lawn police officer, Joseph Schmidt.
After discussing the matter for several minutes, Torres ultimately puts her credit card down to pay but still seems incensed. Then, according to Torres' daughter, Schmidt made a remark that dramatically changes the dynamic.
"He was telling her, 'All you people are the same,' and I didn't understand what he meant by that," she explained. "She was like, 'What do you mean all the people are the same? Are you saying a prejudice remark because I'm Mexican?'"
Just as the manager returns to have Torres sign the credit card receipt, Schmidt swings his arm around Torres' neck and at one point appears to push her head to the counter.
"No matter what the situation was, he's like three times her size," said Torres' son, Michael Torres. "And he's a cop, too. He shouldn't have been arguing with her the way he was arguing, you know. I mean, he's supposed to be the mature one."
Other restaurant patrons have since come forward, saying they were alarmed at what they witnessed. Nearly a dozen people told NBC Chicago they saw the officer lose control and assault Torres.
"He already had her by the hair and he was slapping her, and I ran up to my sister and I'm like, 'He's an off-duty cop. Don't touch him. He's got a gun. And that's when I was in the middle of the video and I was pointing at him and I was saying, 'You better [censored] let go of her right now," said one witness, Gabe Moreno.
Several Oak Lawn squad cars later arrived and Torres was arrested in put in one of them. One person said the police only told witnesses to "Get the [censored] out of here."
"There were many patrons in the establishment that evening," said defense attorney David Peilet. "Ask those people what happened. They would have told them. They were never given that opportunity because they didn't want to."
Later, two very different sides to the story emerged.
The incident report from the Oak Lawn Police Department doesn't mention Moreno, but does include two Hooters employees who backed up Schmidt's testimony in court that Torres spit on him.
It's an allegation the woman's attorney refutes.
Peilet said he asked Schmidt about the incident at the August bench trial.
"I asked him where he got spit at. He said, 'In the face.' I asked him where in the face. He couldn't recall. He couldn't recall wiping off the spit. He didn't go to receive medical attention in case Ms. Torres might have had some communicable disease," he said.
"There is no evidence of that on the video, and further, there are witnesses that corroborate my client," said attorney Phillip Bartolementi, the attorney for the civil suit.
Ultimately, Judge Kathleen Burke handed down a guilty verdict on misdemeanor battery charges and sentenced the grandmother of four to 200 days in Cook County's maximum security women's unit.
Her family admits that Torres has a temper when she believes he's been treated unfairly, and she has some prior convictions, including driving under the influence and retail theft.
"Even if he had cause to believe he had probably cause to arrest her, he did not have probably cause to arrest and beat her," said Bartolementi.
NBC Chicago has tried unsuccessfully to contact Hooters' chief marketing officer.
Torres' civil suit seeks more than $180,000 from Hooters and more than $100,000 from Schmidt. The Village of Oak Lawn is also listed as a defendant.
In a statement, the Oak Lawn Police Department did not confirm that an internal investigation had been launched. The department also said it has not been served with a summons "but is prepared to vigorously defend itself."
Officer Schmidt has not responded to requests for comment via telephone and email.