Anthony Abbate should have walked in and out of a Cook County courthouse like any other accused criminal Tuesday morning, Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline said.
Instead, the burly Chicago cop, who is accused of pummeling a petite female bartender during a drunken rage, was shielded from the media by on-duty Grand Central District officers, who apparently were acting on the orders of their captain when they used police vehicles to hide Abbate as he left the Northwest Side courthouse.
By evening, an angry Cline announced he was demoting the captain and investigating other allegations against police officers, including that they ticketed the cars of reporters trying to cover Abbate's hearing and threatened them with arrest.
Cline's comments came on the day he had planned to announce a new policy that will allow the department to move faster against rogue cops. The policy was in response to Abbate's case and an unrelated incident in which off-duty Chicago cops allegedly beat four patrons at a West Loop bar on Dec. 15. Both incidents were caught on security video, although only Abbate's has been made public.
Rather than simply announce the new procedure Tuesday, Cline and his staff were forced to answer questions about why their officers were protecting Abbate.
The captain, a 24-year veteran, ordered at least four squad cars to block off a parking lot at the courthouse, which is housed at the district station, and an adjacent private lot to try to "control" the media, officials said.
Somebody in authority also apparently allowed Abbate to slip out a rear entrance, avoiding cameras and reporters.
Cline said he was stunned by the special treatment, saying of Abbate: "He's tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department."
Abbate has been stripped of his police powers, and the department is moving to fire him because of the Feb. 19 beating, video images of which were replayed around the world.
Cline also said six officers allegedly involved in the second beating have been stripped of their police powers -- which Cline said should have happened weeks ago.
When the department was alerted to the beating -- which occurred at the Jefferson Tap & Grille -- investigators with the department's Office of Professional Standards viewed the video within five days. The video reportedly shows an off-duty sergeant waving away on-duty officers who responded to 911 calls. Prosecutors saw the video by the end of the month, Cline said.
The officers were reassigned pending the criminal investigation, Cline said.
"In hindsight, this incident should have been handled differently," Cline said. "These officers should have been stripped of their police powers sooner. The incident has made me realize we need to tighten up our ps to ensure that officers who participate in this type of behavior do not remain on the street."
Under his new policy, police brass will meet with Cook County prosecutors within 48 hours of an officer being accused of serious criminal behavior. If prosecutors believe there is a strong case against the officers, they will be immediately stripped of their police powers, Cline said.
A grim-faced Cline, who addressed the beatings with his full command staff standing behind him, said the changes are going to make the force stronger.
But he couldn't deny the damage already done to the public trust.
"The past two weeks have been disheartening and embarrassing for me, personally and professionally," Cline said. "It is especially demoralizing for the 13,600 who serve this department honorably everyday. . . . They, too, are sickened and embarrassed."