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Forest preserve officer who didn't help woman in Puerto Rican flag shirt 'tarnished the whole department,' commissioner says

Thursday, July 12, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

Forest preserve officer who didn't help woman in Puerto Rican flag shirt 'tarnished the whole department,' commissioner says

Gregory PrattChicago Tribune

The Cook County Forest Preserve District police officer who resigned after being caught on video seemingly ignoring a woman’s call for help did not leave “in good standing,” the district’s superintendent said Thursday.

County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. said at a news conference that Officer Patrick Connor “embarrassed many of our law enforcement officers and tarnished the whole department with his failure to act.”

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County officials, though, praised the woman wearing a shirt emblazoned with the flag of Puerto Rico as a role model for her composure under intense, racially charged pressure. Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall tried to place the incident in the context of similar ones across the country, saying it’s a reminder that people need to stand up to the type of behavior seen in the video.

“We might start with the fine example presented Mia Irizarry and her family, who handled this ugly incident with great composure, never stooping to the level of the man who attacked her,” Randall said.

Now the district will review the diversity training officers have to take. Connor took that training a year ago, officials said.

Thursday’s news conference was the latest attempt by county officials to respond to the encounter, which happened in mid-June but became an international scandal this week when video footage of the incident went viral and drew millions of views. That has meant a significant amount of negative attention for the preserves, which Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addressed in a statement.

“The appalling incident of June 14 and the inaction of one former member of the Forest Preserves Police should not diminish the greatness of the Preserves, nor dissuade people from enjoying our 70,000 acres of nature and beauty,” she said. “As Arnold said today, we recommit ourselves to ensuring our guests have a safe and pleasurable experience in the preserves, and we will continue working with our dedicated staff to meet our obligations in this regard.”

In the video, shot at Caldwell Woods in Chicago, a man confronts and berates a woman for wearing a shirt. The woman appeals to the officer, but he appears to not respond. Attempts to reach Connor have been unsuccessful.

District police Chief Kelvin Pope said Connor was “very remorseful” when he resigned but that Connor considered it “an unfortunate incident” and felt he wasn’t “given a fair shake” by all the publicity.

Randall said he “vehemently disagreed” with Connor that he handled the situation properly. His personnel file will note that he left with “discipline pending,” and he won’t be rehired to the department, Randall said.

Forest preserve cop resigns after apparently failing to help woman being harassed over Puerto Rico shirt »

Connor, 56, joined the department in 2006, according to state records. He has come under heavy criticism based on the video, and there have been multiple calls for him to be dismissed.

On Wednesday, the top lawyer for the union that represents Connor and his fellow officers on the Forest Preserve District police force had urged people not to rush to judgment based on what was seen on the video.

“I always say this when it comes to video: The video doesn’t look good, but anybody who’s a football fan knows that the video doesn’t tell the entire story,” Tamara Cummings, general counsel for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, said Wednesday. “We don’t know what was going on outside the video, and we don’t know what was going through the officer’s mind. That’s the purpose of the investigation, to find out all the facts.”

The video shows the woman asking Connor to restrain the man who is bothering her. The officer is visible in the background of the video, standing several yards from the man and the woman, but he does not appear to respond to the woman’s requests for help.

The man, later identified as Timothy Trybus, has been charged with two felony hate crime counts as well as misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.

In the video, Trybus, 62, demands to know why the woman is wearing a shirt displaying the Puerto Rican flag. He asks her whether she is an American citizen, even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens.

“You should not be wearing that in the United States of America,” Trybus tells her.

In a longer version of the video, the officer explains that he was called to the preserve in response to an alleged incident between a man who was with Trybus and another woman, and Connor appears to try to assure the victim that Trybus does not pose any threat to her safety.

County officials on Thursday were asked what people should do if they find themselves in a similar situation Irizarry did.

“Mia absolutely did the correct thing,” Pope said.

“That’s what we took an oath to do, serve and protect, and it was just unfortunate that this circumstance didn’t turn out in that way,” he said.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @royalpratt



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