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Anthony Abbate Jr. Mon Nov 05 2012
By Julia Gray
During the past two weeks, the Anthony Abbate, Jr. civil trial has kept an audience of three to 15 people riveted with sparkling testimony peppered with more answers of "I don't recall" and more sidebars than seemed humanly possible. What was presented that wasn't dull was mounds and mounds of evidence — or not — depending on which side you're on.
The focus of this trial is whether or not a code of silence was at play immediately following the incident at Jesse's Shortstop Inn in February 2007.
We've heard the testimony of both the main people in this trial: Anthony Abbate, Jr. and Karolina Obrycka. Also, we've heard the testimony of friends and former coworkers of Abbate, which caused a few watching to ponder why the former Chicago police officer had such lousy friends.
Then there were the experts. The experts who stood out were the scientists slash statisticians. First up was Dr. Steve Whitman, an epidemiologist and statistician at Chicago's Mount Sinai Hospital. His research on the Chicago Police Department's failure to uphold the excessive force complaint punishments at a level on par with the rest of the nation was both confusing and interesting.
However, today's testimony by Dr. Matthew Hickman, an assistant professor in criminal justice and statistician at Seattle University was an attempt to put the kibosh on Whitman's testimony. In some ways Hickman did, explaining in an over-the-top manner, which appeared to confuse the jury. Hickman claimed that Whitman's report and research wasn't correct because of the way it was compiled, analyzed and because Whitman has never worked in the criminal justice field. Another wee wrinkle here — Hickman didn't read or use Whitman's report whilst writing his own report, but was critical of Whitman's work. Hickman also admitted that the extensive research he and his team at the Department of Justice Statistics had conducted was tough to analyze because none of the roughly 3000 law enforcement agencies they studied had a universal comparison system. In other words, for example, what might be considered excessive force at the Little Rock Police Department may not be considered anything in New Orleans.
Next up, the jury heard testimony from a menagerie of police officers and police officials — both current and former — ranging in rank from officer to command staff to attorney for the department. Some knew Abbate personally while others did not. Most couldn't recall any of the phone calls or conversations with Abbate himself or with fellow officers or the powers-that-be that followed the incident in the spring of 2007. The most memorable and vexing was the testimony of Deputy Superintendent of Police Debra Kirby. Kirby was also the head of the internal affairs division at the time. One witness — Sgt. Joseph Stehlik — confirmed that after watching the infamous videotape with Kirby, she told the states' attorney office during a phone call "that an officer is taking swings at a woman but a lot of them are missing. From what we see it appears to be a simple battery." Simply put, simple battery is a misdemeanor, not a felony, which causes one to wonder what would have happened to this case had the media not gotten its paws on it.
Of course, Kirby denied ever uttering those words and was adamant about getting Abbate charged with a felony. Oh, and yes, it gets better: Then-prosecutor Thomas Bilyck doesn't remember ever getting a phone call from Kirby discussing the tape and asking for a felony indictment.
Former general counsel for the CPD and now federal prosecutor Sheri Mecklenburg took the stand today, and after confirming that she's pretty good pals with city attorney Scott Jebson and is familiar but not super friendly with Terry Ekl and the other attorneys in this case, she testified about how important her position was with CPD. So important, in fact, that it wasn't unusual to have many a phone conversation regarding departmental issues after-hours with then-Superintendent Phil Cline. Mecklenburg also met with Cline daily and other CPD top brass, and was in charge of the other 10 attorneys employed by the department. When Mecklenburg and other higher-ups like Monique Bond, head of media relations; Mike Duffy; Debra Kirby and Chief of Staff Mike Boyce, viewed the videotape, Mecklenburg said that all involved were "revolted, disgusted and angry" by what they viewed. They all agreed — including Cline who was participating via conference call — that Abbate needed to go. Now.
Mecklenburg would not see the investigation through to the end since she moved on to greener pastures at the end of March 2007.
My eyes were peeled on the jury because I was waiting for one if not a couple of them to start banging their noggins on the wall as a way to help sort out all of the evidence presented. Closing arguments are on Tuesday, then the jury gets to gnaw on it for a bit.
Julia Gray is a freelance journalist who has written for the Beachwood Reporter, Time Out Chicago and TheStreet.com. She is also the occasional co-host of the Internet radio show "The Matthew Aaron Show," where she has interviewed folks like humorist Kelly Carlin, actors Timothy Busfield, Craig Bierko, and producer Mark Canton. Feel free to check out her blog.