Here’s an odd story out of the southwest suburbs of Chicago:
The Village of Oak Lawn has launched an internal investigation of an off-duty police officer accused of attacking a grandmother over a disputed bill at a Hooters restaurant and the police response when he called for backup on his radio.
The probe comes after a civil suit was filed Wednesday and after the coming forth of several witnesses who tell NBC Chicago that it appears other responding officers protected their brother in blue.
A little background: The confrontation began when Livier Torres attempted to dispute her bill at the Oak Lawn, Illinois Hooters restaurant. Joseph Schmidt, an off duty Oak Lawn police officer working as a security guard at the restaurant, stepped in and the situation rapidly escalated. From the security camera video posted above, it appears that Schmidt overreacted to something the woman said, and he roughed her up pretty badly. Schmidt claims Torres spit on him, but that’s not altogether clear from the video and eye witnesses claim that never happened.
Furthermore, NBC’s Chicago affiliate is reporting that when Oak Lawn police officers were called to the scene, they refused to take statements from witnesses in the restaurant. Instead, they arrested Torres for battery. A Cook County judge convicted Torres and sentenced her to 200 days – nearly seven months – in jail, even though the security video shows no evidence that she actually attacked Schmidt and witnesses testified that she did not spit on him.
Now you would think that Torres’ conviction would effectively vindicate Schmidt – after all, he claims he used force only because she attacked him – but Oak Lawn is sufficiently concerned about its officer’s actions that it’s conducting its own investigation of the matter.
Which brings me to the real issue. Torres’ case is only one of a series of controversial cases over the past few years involving police officers accused of mistreating civilians in the Chicago area – and more or less getting away with it. Last year, Chicago Police Officer Anthony Abbate received only two years’ probation for what appeared to be a horrific assault on Karolina Obrycka. That incident was captured on video, too (see previous link), and the comparatively light sentence Abbate received caused outrage here. Likewise, in April 2010 a Cook County criminal judge dropped DUI charges against another Chicago Police Officer, John Ardelean, even though he caused an accident that killed two people, and even though the prosecution advised the court that it had video tape (again!) showing Ardelean drinking at a bar shortly before the accident.
Of course, each of these cases has to be evaluated on its own merits, but taken together they raise a serious question about justice in Cook County. Are our criminal judges applying a separate set of rules to cases where police officers are alleged to have committed crimes? Given the fact that Torres got nearly seven months in jail for allegedly spitting on an officer (although the video tape doesn’t seem to show that) and Officer Abbate got two years probation for severely beating Karolina Obrycka (which the video tape confirms), it’s a fair question that demands an answer.