Chicago Tribune John Kass column
Dec 06, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Many in Chicago were upset when they heard Mayor Rahm Emanuel was cutting a deal over the federal civil jury's decision involving the big cop who beat the tiny female bartender.
But perhaps no one is as upset as Dr. Joseph R. Lentino, 66, a retired North Side physician born and raised here.
Lentino was on the jury.
"I read your column about it in Wednesday's paper," he told me over the phone. "I was appalled at what the mayor is trying to do. Just appalled. It's morally reprehensible. And that's why I contacted you."
Few members of the jury have spoken out publicly. But in his first in-depth interview since the verdict, Lentino said he is upset that City Hall's deal -- scheduled to be presented to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve on Friday -- would erase the jury's findings that there is a "code of silence" in the Chicago Police Department.
It was that code, the civil jury found, that protected former cop Anthony Abbate, caught on video mercilessly beating the tiny bartender, Polish immigrant Karolina Obrycka, in 2007.
Abbate had already been found guilty in a criminal trial. The civil trial involved the cover-up and the city's responsibility. The jury awarded Obrycka $850,000.
This week, Emanuel defended the new deal between his administration and Obrycka's lawyers: The city agrees to pay her the full amount plus attorney's fees, and together they're asking the court to vacate the jury's finding that a "code of silence" exists in the Police Department. Emanuel said he wants that finding eliminated in order to protect taxpayers from liability in future brutality cases.
"Abbate wanted silence. The mayor wants silence. He wants this to go away," Lentino said. "The mayor's response was similar to that of a petulant child. He didn't get what he wanted; now he wants it to change. This isn't going to cost the city just $850,000. By changing it, it's going to cost the city respect. As a result of this decision of the mayor, the public will lose the respect of the judicial process. And if you lose that, where are you "
Lentino has friends in the Police Department who go out and risk their lives and make arrests. They're what street cops call "the real police." And he said the jury learned that the code of silence works not from the bottom up, but from the top down.
"The average officer on the street is a decent person with their life on the line," he said. "I have nothing but respect for them. I have personal friends who are and were police officers, and I know from them the type of work they do.
"But the upper levels, it's different. They didn't want problems. Problems rock the boat. And when they can sweep it away, that's fine. They accept it, they allow the code of silence to exist. It only exists at the bottom because the ones on top allow it. And to change this ruling now, it would be terrible."
In the civil trial in St. Eve's courtroom, the jury was asked to find whether Obrycka's rights were violated, Lentino said.
"And to get to that, we had to find whether there was a code of silence. And was this code of silence basically shocking to our consciences Was the code of silence the motivating factor in his behavior
"It became very clear to us, after reviewing all the testimony, that there was some type of agreement among police not to rat out their fellow officers."
Reports were erroneously filed. The former Office of Professional Standards didn't hear of the beating for almost 72 hours. Some prosecutors were uninterested, he said. All that bothered the jury.
"The state's attorney I sometimes tend to think they don't function in the best interest of the public. You're a nobody, they're not interested. If you're a somebody, they are interested," he said.
You've probably seen bits of the security video from Jesse's Short Stop Inn, the hulking Abbate rounding the bar, attacking Obrycka, pummeling her.
"But we saw more of the tape. The other officers coming in after the beating to file a report that doesn't contain pertinent information, like the fact the entire episode was recorded, that she was pointing out the cameras, that they failed to report he's a police officer, that they failed to report his last name," he said.
Then came the list of cellphone calls from Abbate to police officers that went on for more than two days, to fellow patrol officers, detectives, others.
"If you have any common sense, you know they're talking about what happened and how does he get relief. Then he checks himself into rehab, where he could not be touched, where he's untouchable."
Abbate said he beat the bartender because he was drunk and upset over his dog's illness.
"When he's perfectly sober, Abbate beats the living daylights of another patron who criticized his dog. And nobody did anything. That told me this guy thinks he's special," Lentino said.
The doctor has nothing but praise for St. Eve. He hopes she rules to keep the jury's finding of a code of silence intact.
"I think abrogating the jury decision is morally wrong," he said. "It may be expedient from a legal and financial aspect, but the mayor sets the tone for the citizens, and his actions speak loudly to the public.
"What reason is there then for the public to respect the courts You just can't erase what happened. You can't just beat people up who are minding their business and doing their job. You just can't."
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