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Chicago’s Emanuel defends bid to erase verdict in police beating case

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday his attempt to erase a jury’s verdict “closes a chapter” on the police scandal sparked by the videotaped beating of a bartender, but lawyers in other misconduct cases say the mayor is joining a long list of city officials who have denied a “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department protects rogue officers.

The mayor defended the city’s offer to pay the woman beaten by former Officer Anthony Abbate the $850,000 she was awarded by a federal jury Nov. 13. In exchange, she is supporting a motion to vacate the jury’s decision that the department has a practice of protecting its own.

Emanuel echoed the motion made by city attorneys Monday asking U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve to erase that decision on the grounds the department has cleaned up its problems and the finding shouldn’t be used against the city in other cases.

“Now, this agreement, in my view, closes a chapter on something before I was mayor,” Emanuel said. “And it also allows us to protect the city against future lawsuits.”

What Emanuel is really seeking, University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman said, is a “code of silence on the code of silence.”

The jury’s verdict in Karolina Obrycka’s lawsuit could affect any future case in which the credibility of a police officer’s testimony is challenged, said Futterman, who represents clients suing the police department. Because the jury found the code of silence to be a matter of fact, he said, the city might not be able to challenge the assertion in other police lawsuits.

City officials have long disputed the notion the department protects bad cops, said Locke Bowman, a Northwestern University law professor who runs the school’s MacArthur Justice Center. He has handled many wrongful conviction cases against the city.

“This verdict imposes a strong incentive on the city” to reform, Bowman said. “If you wipe it off the books, you remove that incentive.”

Emanuel said he demanded his new police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, “establish a standard of professionalism in the Police Department” that included training reforms and “more importantly, at Internal Affairs.”

The police official who ran Internal Affairs at the time of the 2007 bar beating, Debra Kirby, has been promoted repeatedly to other top jobs in the department — including by McCarthy.

Kirby’s involvement in the Abbate case came into question at the trial. Her testimony that she sought felony charges against Abbate was contradicted by an internal affairs investigator who testified that Kirby discussed less serious charges. A Cook County assistant state’s attorney went further in his testimony, denying that Kirby even called him to talk about charges.

The contradictions between Kirby and the other officials first came up in sworn depositions before Emanuel took office in 2011, meaning the new administration was aware of the issue. McCarthy promoted Kirby and placed her in charge of preparations for last May’s NATO summit.

Many of the cases the Abbate verdict could influence involve allegations against the Special Operations Section that was disbanded following a 2006 scandal. Allegations that internal affairs under Kirby failed to investigate SOS officers have been central to many of the cases.

The legal precedent aside, Bowman said the Abbate verdict is a milestone if Emanuel is serious about setting standards of professionalism in the Police Department.

“The jury for the first time in anyone’s memory specifically found there is a policy of employing a code of silence,” he said. “It’s terribly important.”

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