By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — After Martin Kolodziej got word that a confidante of Anthony Abbate — the off-duty Chicago police officer who had just violently attacked one of his female bartenders — wanted to meet, the tavern manager wasn’t taking chances, he told a federal jury Thursday.
Kolodziej went to a Best Buy and bought a tape recorder so he could document what happened next. After all, he had just viewed the videotape from his newly installed security system that captured Abbate pummeling bartender Karolina Obrycka.
The conversation Kolodziej secretly recorded with Patti Chiriboga, Abbate’s friend of 20 years, has emerged as a key piece of evidence in Obrycka’s federal lawsuit against Abbate and the city. In the conversation — heard Thursday by the jury — Chiriboga told Kolodziej that an angry Abbate wanted the videotape and the matter to go away — and he was willing to falsify evidence or plant cocaine on his accusers if necessary.
But Chiriboga, in painful testimony Thursday, denied that Abbate ever asked her to pass that message, flip-flopping on her sworn testimony before a Cook County grand jury in 2007. Another Abbate friend also took the witness stand at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Thursday to deny allegations he tried to bribe Obrycka into not pursuing the matter by offering help with her medical bills.
Chiriboga insisted she didn’t “go to the grand jury to lie,” only that she was confused and that her “mind wasn’t all there.”
Obrycka’s attorney, Terry Ekl, quickly pounced.
“You didn’t go to the grand jury to lie, but you just did when you got in there,” said Ekl, his voice rising.
Chiriboga, who narrowed her eyes and glowered at Ekl during his questioning, retorted, “I was a basket case at the grand jury.”
The alleged threats passed on by Chiriboga are central to Obrycka’s case. The former bartender’s lawsuit contends that Abbate; his close friends, including fellow police officers; and higher-ranking members of the department sought to cover up and then failed to properly investigate the beating in the days immediately afterward.
It all happened, the lawsuit alleges, because of the city’s unofficial “code of silence” policy that protects wayward officers.
A highly intoxicated Abbate attacked Obrycka at Jesse’s Short Stop Inn on the Northwest Side in February 2007 after she stopped him from coming behind the bar.
The tavern’s security system, installed just a few days earlier, captured the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Abbate throw, punch and kick the diminutive Obrycka.
Abbate was charged with only a misdemeanor, prompting Obrycka’s attorneys to release the video. The violent footage went viral and led to a firestorm of criticism for the department. Charges against Abbate were upgraded to felonies, and he was later convicted of aggravated battery. He was spared prison but placed on two years’ probation and ultimately fired from the department.
Chiriboga, who was also a bartender at Jesse’s, said she made up the threats from Abbate because she was concerned that her boss, Kolodziej, was going to release the explosive video to the news media, putting her 15-year bartending job at risk. An attack like that would be bad for business, she explained.
“A bar is supposed to be a sacred place,” she said.
Thursday’s testimony focused the spotlight on Jesse’s, a neighborhood joint where Abbate was one of the regulars.
Kolodziej testified that after he arrived at the bar after the beating, he told Chicago police officers who responded to Obrycka’s 911 call that he had footage of the beating.
“You cannot believe,” Kolodziej said he told the two officers sitting in a squad car outside Jesse’s.
The officers told him to cue up the footage but then never came inside, the bar owner said.
“I went outside looking for these police officers, but the squad wasn’t there,” he testified.
Gary Ortiz, Abbate’s friend since the fourth grade and another regular at the bar, denied any bribe attempt, another key allegation in Obrycka’s lawsuit.
In often colorful testimony, Ortiz claimed he was actually trying to help Obrycka, who after the attack was complaining of back problems.
“I told her, ‘Go to the hospital,’ ” said Ortiz, striking a sympathetic tone. “And when Tony wakes up and realizes what he did, he’ll apologize and pay. … I know how Tony is.”
Ortiz told the jury he wouldn’t lie for his friend.
“No ma’am,” he said. “Absolutely, I am not going to jail or lie in federal court for nobody.”
Obrycka has not taken the stand yet.