(MCT) — CHICAGO — In the video of her 2007 beating by an off-duty cop, petite bartender Karolina Obrycka stands up to Anthony Abbate as he charges at her, determined to get behind the bar. After Abbate has tossed her down and pummeled her, the video shows Obrycka continuing to serve drinks and finishing her shift at Jesse’s Short Stop Inn in Chicago.
But Obrycka on Monday told a federal jury that she still suffers back and neck pain as a result of the attack nearly six years ago. Testifying in an even voice that at times hesitated but never broke, she said she also suffers panic attacks that cause her jaw to lock.
“My panic attacks start with a numbness in my hands,” Obrycka, 30, said. “It goes all over my body. It feels like I’m cramping up and it’s extremely painful.”
Obrycka, who is married and has a young son, has sat in the courtroom for more than a week and listened to a string of witnesses talk about the infamous beating, a video of which went viral and became a major embarrassment for Chicago Police.
On Monday it was her turn.
“I remember he told me ‘Nobody tells me what to do,’” Obrycka said, recalling how Abbate reacted when she told him he could not come behind the bar. “I remember him throwing me like a rag doll.”
And though she finished her shift, Obrycka told the jury she went to the emergency room the next morning with bruises, back pain and a burning sensation in her neck where Abbate had yanked her hair out.
The initial misdemeanor charges filed against Abbate in 2007 were upgraded to felonies after Obrycka’s attorneys released the tape to the media. Obrycka testified at Abbate’s criminal trial, where he was found guilty and sentenced to two years’ probation. Abbate was also fired from the police department.
Obrycka, whose doctor testified has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, is suing both Abbate and the city. She alleges that long-standing practices within the Chicago Police Department resulted in a code of silence that contributed to efforts by Abbate, his friends, his colleagues on the force and, eventually, higher-ranking department members to either cover up or minimize the barroom attack.
Attorneys for the city say Abbate was drunk the night of the beating and did nothing to orchestrate a cover-up.
But in her testimony, Obrycka said that several of Abbate’s cohorts pressured her to drop the matter.
Abbate’s childhood friend told her that Abbate did not want her to press charges and would pay her medical bills if she’d keep quiet, she said. Abbate’s girlfriend called her the evening of the beating and pressed for her last name, which a frightened Obrycka refused to give, she testified. Two days later, another Abbate pal told Obrycka that Abbate was threatening to plant drugs in people’s cars unless the beating was forgotten, Obrycka testified.
Obrycka quit her job at Jesse’s three days after the attack.
“I didn’t feel safe there anymore,” she said. “I felt that Tony would come back or one or more of his friends. And they would do more damage.”
Obrycka contradicted much of the testimony the jury heard last week, as Abbate’s friends took the stand, one after another and said they never tried to help him.
Obrycka also testified that she told officers responding to her 911 call that Abbate was a cop and gave them his last name, she said. She told the officers video equipment had probably captured the beating.
None of that information was in the police report. City attorneys have said Abbate’s last name was left off the report because it was secondhand information and sketchy.
Obrycka also described how two investigators showed up at her door three days after the attack with an arrest report for her to sign. Her attorneys say the arrest report, which was blank, was for misdemeanor charges, and that the department’s Internal Affairs Division wanted the lesser charges.
Attorneys for the city have denied that, saying police officials pushed for felony charges even as the Cook County state’s attorney’s office balked.
Those issues are expected to continue to be the focus of testimony Tuesday as former IAD chief Deb Kirby is slated to take the stand.
In a set-up Monday to that portion of the trial, Obrycka’s attorneys called a national expert on police misconduct and internal police investigations who said that an unofficial code of silence was “alive and well” within the department in 2007.
Lou Reiter called the investigation into the beating “generally deficient” and “contrary to police practice,” noting how the two investigators arrived at Obrycka’s house with the blank arrest report for her to sign.
Scott Jebson, an attorney representing the city, sought to undermine the testimony by pointing out that Reiter did not read the 600-page internal police report on the beating itself. Reiter explained that he was not hired to analyze Abbate’s conduct during the beating.