By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 30, 6:09 AM ET
Surveillance camera footage of an officer pummeling a female bartender half his size has made its way into living rooms worldwide through 24-hour news channels and YouTube.
"He's tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department," Police Superintendent Phil Cline said of Anthony Abbate, a 12-year veteran charged with felony aggravated battery in the Feb. 19 beating.
The videotape has combined the worst stereotypes of Chicago police officers that the department has been trying to shake since its most famous act of brutality: the beatings of protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The video shows a 250-pound man police have identified as Abbate attacking a 115-pound bartender.
Police have been criticized for waiting a month to arrest Abbate and for initially charging him with a misdemeanor. They are investigating claims that Abbate and at least one other person threatened the bartender to keep her from pressing charges.
They are also looking into whether police acted properly while arresting Abbate. Cline said he would demote a watch commander who allowed officers to use their squad cars to help their colleague duck the media when leaving the courthouse Tuesday.
"It revealed every stereotypical aspect of what it means to be a Chicago cop," said Laura Washington, a prominent Chicago journalist and DePaul University professor who has been critical of the department.
Chicago's police department is not the only one to come under fire because its officers allegedly abused their powers. The Los Angeles Police Department for years dealt with the fallout from the amateur video showing its officers beating Rodney King in 1991. And the New York Police Department has been hit with questions about sending undercover officers around the world to observe activists who planned to protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Chicago department, said the Abbate case paints an inaccurate picture of the department.
Cline, she said, reacted decisively in the wake of the allegations. He announced this week he will speed up the process of getting officers accused of misconduct off the streets.
He has urged a police board to fire Abbate and said that six officers accused of assaulting four businessmen in a bar in a previous incident had been removed from street duty. A lawyer for the four men said security cameras at the bar captured the Dec. 15 incident, though police have not released that footage.
Critics question whether Cline and others are downplaying the scope of the problem within the department.
They say the two cases illustrate the types of abuse that have occurred for years.
The videotaped beatings come as one-time death row inmates fight in court for restitution over alleged beatings. A report released by special prosecutors last year said police tortured black suspects by kicking and shocking them to get them to confess to crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
"This is another brick in the wall of unbroken police brutality and violence that has spanned my career," said G. Flint Taylor, a civil rights lawyer for the former inmates. "It is a microcosm of a lot of cases."
Even observers who disagree say the recent incidents have seriously wounded the department.
"There is always in the aftermath a feeling ... that this is a common situation, even if it's not," said Richard Ward, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas who has written numerous books on the subject.
He said the department has vastly improved the training and monitoring of its officers in recent years.
"It always takes longer to rebuild the image," he said.
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