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Jurors in trial of Chicago officer accused in beating hear conflicting testimony

Published: Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 9:44 a.m. CST

(MCT) — CHICAGO — A federal jury heard more conflicting testimony Thursday into how the Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors handled the investigation into off-duty cop Anthony Abbate’s videotaped beating of a female bartender.

A top Chicago police commander insisted that officials in the state’s attorney’s office made the decision to treat the bar beating as a misdemeanor — only to falter moments later when he got key details of the investigation wrong.

The testimony underscored the apparent confusion over how the 2007 beating inside Jesse’s Short Stop Inn was handled because of the involvement of an off-duty cop as well as the infighting among police and prosecutors over how to charge Abbate.

How Abbate was charged is a central question in the federal trial stemming from the lawsuit by the bartender, Karolina Obrycka, against Abbate and the city. The lawsuit contends that police officials tried to minimize her beating by quietly filing misdemeanor charges against the officer. The charges were later upgraded to felonies at about the time that Abbate’s lawyers publicly released the videotape, which quickly went viral and caused a firestorm of criticism for the department.

On the witness stand Thursday, Keith Calloway, who was an Internal Affairs Division lieutenant involved in the Abbate investigation, said the videotape showed “evil and mean” conduct on Abbate’s part. Calloway, now a deputy chief of the organized crime unit, held firm that he asked for felony charges during a meeting with Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Bilyk. But Bilyk said no, Calloway said..

“I said, ‘Tom, this is ridiculous. This is a felony, correct?’ ” Calloway recalled. “Tom said, ‘No, not really. When you look at the tape ... and she wasn’t really injured.’ ”

In testifying earlier in the week, Bilyk denied there were any discussions of what kind of charges to bring. And on Thursday, Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Freeman concurred with Bilyk’s testimony.

After insisting he wanted Abbate to be charged with a felony, Calloway, the state’s first witness, said he wasn’t even aware that one of his detectives went to Obrycka’s home for her to sign a misdemeanor complaint.

Calloway denied the detective went to the home — even though the detective himself and other officers have already testified about the visit.

“I think you’re confused, sir,” Calloway told Obrycka’s lawyer, Terry Ekl.

“I’m confused?” Ekl shot back incredulously. The lawyer then recounted for Calloway that the detective had indeed testified about going to Obrycka’s home. Ekl then demanded to know if Calloway was being truthful with any of his testimony.

But Calloway stood his ground, even asking Ekl: “What part don’t you understand?”

The city attorney then tried to come to Calloway’s rescue, quickly telling him that the detective had gone to the home — over an objection from Ekl.

Despite an objection to the question from Ekl, Calloway was able to respond. “I never heard that before,” he said.

Prosecutors Freeman and Bilyk both say they were never told by Chicago police that officers went to Obrycka’s house to have her sign the misdemeanor complaint. They said that after learning of the videotaped attack and allegations that Abbate’s pals and fellow cops were threatening witnesses to not press charges, they launched an investigation into the entire matter.

The investigation was going to take time and charging Abbate with a misdemeanor could have crippled any efforts to charge him later with a felony, Freeman said Thursday. Freeman also testified that she was not only surprised but angry when she found out about the misdemeanor complaint.

But Calloway’s assertion that Bilyk wanted misdemeanor charges was supported by earlier evidence in the trial that a report was filed by an Internal Affairs officer who, after meeting with prosecutors, including Bilyk, indicated that the lesser charges would be sought.

Other testimony from Freeman also seemed to contradict a key allegation in Obrycka’s lawsuit — that Abbate and other officers were conspiring to make sure no charges were brought in the days after the attack.

Freeman said those allegations were investigated, but prosecutors were unable to find evidence that Abbate met with a friend to pass along the alleged threats on bar patrons to plant cocaine.

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