A former Chicago police officer already convicted of beating a female bartender five years ago testified Tuesday in a civil trial that he never implored fellow officers to cover up the attack that was caught on videotape.
Anthony Abbate said on the day of the attack he was upset about learning his dog had cancer and was on a mission "to get totally inebriated."
He apparently succeeded, and told jurors he had no recollection of beating and kicking Karolina Obrycka as she worked at Jesse's Shortstop Inn that night in 2007. In fact, he said he denied the attack when his girlfriend called to tell him police were investigating.
The current trial stems from a lawsuit she filed against Chicago and Abbate, who was convicted of aggravated battery in 2009 and sentenced to probation. At issue is whether Abbate and the city are liable for damages to compensate Obrycka for any pain or distress she suffered.
Civil Trial Alleges Police Coverup in Bartender Beating Case
Abbate conceded making scores of phone calls that night after getting home -- something he attributed to "drunk dialing" -- but insisted his efforts weren't to initiate a cover up.
"He didn't tell the truth. That's for sure. He did not tell the truth," said Obrycka's attorney Terry Ekl, outside the courtroom. "The phone records are going to reveal that Abbate called a number of Chicago police officers in an attempt to get help on this case, and we're going to be unraveling those phone calls as the trial goes on."
On the stand, Abbate insisted he never tried to influence anything, testifying that he didn't know the investigating officers, that he didn't know why the initial police report failed to identify him as an officer and that he never threatened to plant evidence on bar employees for their cooperation in the investigation.
Bartender Beating Caught on Tape
There was one effort at rehabilitation. Contrary to previous testimony, Abbate conceded his beating of Obrycka was not an act of self-defense.
"He didn't know any police officers in the 20th district. A police report was generated. He was arrested. He was charged with a felony. He was fired from his job and, you know, the video tape was in existence and provided for everyone to see," said Abbate's attorney, Michael Malatesta.
Surveillance video of the attack went viral online and shined a spotlight on allegations of abuse by Chicago police. Amid accusations that police dithered in the weeks after the beating, then-superintendent Phil Cline retired and the department vowed to clean up its image.
Defense attorneys are closely following the trial, said Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago-based defense lawyer.
"I would think the majority of the public would believe there's a code of silence," she said. "I know there is. ... And police who don't adhere to it are ostracized."
If the city wins, she added, it could further embolden police to never turn on one of their own. But a loss could set a precedent, which could help attorneys whose clients allege police abuse win their cases.
"I think the city will lose -- and lose big," she said.
City attorneys have insisted there is no evidence of such a code and that police have a track record of investigating and charging officers for misconduct.
Because Abbate was off duty during the attack, Obrycka's attorneys must persuade jurors that a code exists, that it's sanctioned by the city and that it led to the beating and an attempted cover-up.
The trial, which started Monday, is expected to take about three weeks. More than 100 witnesses could take the stand, including Deborah Kirby, who was head of the department's Internal Affairs Division in 2007.