Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cop justice, Chicago style

Cop in bar fight video gets 2 years probation - – Rockford’s News Leader: "CHICAGO (AP) - The judge who sentenced an off-duty Chicago police officer to probation for beating a female bartender says the officer has been through rehabilitation and didn't cause serious harm.

Cook County Circuit Judge John Fleming also says Anthony Abbate (ah-BAHT'-ee) has no prior history of crimes and wasn't working the night he beat the bartender.

Fleming today sentenced Abbate to two years probation and anger management classes. He also imposed a home curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and ordered Abbate to perform 130 hours of community service."

Abbate is a hulking 300 pound drunken brute. The bartender weighs about 125. The whole thing is on video and has been all over the world since it was first broadcast. She refused to serve him, he refused to leave, she tried to get him out, he beat the crap out of her.

But this is Chicago, where in the absence of videotape the victim often gets the blame in these cop-civilian confrontations, even if the cops are off-duty. The formula for a lawyer defending a cop charged with brutality in Chicago is simple. Waive jury and try to get the case assigned to a friendly judge for a bench trial. Make a ludicrous argument in which you blame the whole thing on the victim. Try for a not guilty verdict. Failing that, claim your client has been punished enough, he would be at risk in prison because he's a copy, and hope for a minimal sentence.

In years past that formula worked out fine even for organized crime figures, even for mafia hit men who shot people to death in public, in front of witnesses. But that involved bribing the judges. In these cop cases, there is no indication of bribes. There is a political side to these cases, because the police officers' union is a powerful force and the judges have to be concerned about missing the 60% threshold needed to keep their jobs in retention elections. The only way to lose a retention election is to generate organized opposition. But maybe the judges don't want to send cops to jail or prison because of the risk to their safety from other inmates.

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