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

Thursday, July 12, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Matthew Walberg, Gregory Pratt

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

Matthew Walberg, Gregory PrattChicago Tribune

 

The Cook County Forest Preserve District police officer who was caught on video seemingly ignoring a woman’s call for help has resigned, the district announced late Wednesday.

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Officer Patrick Connor’s resignation is effective immediately, and as of Wednesday he “no longer serves in the police department,” a district spokeswoman said in a written statement.

The announcement came amid a growing chorus of calls for the officer to lose his job over 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.

In the video, shot at Caldwell Woods in Chicago, a man confronts and berates a woman for wearing a Puerto Rico shirt. The woman appeals to the officer for help but the officer, seen in the background just yards away, appears not to respond.

Connor, 56, joined the department in 2006, according to state records.

READ MORE: Cook County prosecutors consider hate crime charge against man who screamed at woman for Puerto Rican flag shirt »

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who had criticized the district for not acting more swiftly to discipline the officer, called Connor’s resignation “a commonsense decision after his inaction and failure to serve Cook County.”

“However,” the commissioner and candidate for Congress said in a written statement, “this still leaves many questions unanswered. Cook County Government must not only review the types of trainings that officers and staff in all departments receive, but how they are implemented and held accountable. I am committed to exploring how Cook County can better address racial and social equity to ensure that all people in Cook County can feel safe and welcomed while receiving our services and utilizing our grounds and facilities. I will be closely monitoring the developments of the ongoing investigation and will work to guarantee that potential hate crimes in Cook County are fully prosecuted.”

Earlier 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.”

Connor’s actions have come under heavy criticism based on the video, and there have been multiple calls for him to be dismissed. Connor had been on desk duty on June 24 — 10 days after the video was shot — as an internal investigation commenced.

Forest Preserve District police Chief Kelvin Pope on Tuesday said Connor “should’ve stepped in, and he should’ve done something. I think that’s the reason we’re here today, because he did not.”

Despite Connor’s resignation, the district said in its announcement “that isn’t where our work ends.”

The district is “further addressing aspects of this incident” and said General Superintendent Arnold Randall would provide more details on Thursday.

Cummings had said the public demands from elected officials for Connor to be fired are unfair and could prejudice the investigation against the officer.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to make that call that he should be fired until the investigation is done,” she said. “It’s premature. I’m hoping these political statements won’t negatively influence the investigation. Even police officers have a right to a fair process.

“I think these calls come from emotion, from people seeing the video (who) are probably complaining to their local leaders, and it’s probably a politically expedient way to respond to the public at this point,” Cummings said. “But I also think it’s shortsighted, and it’s not taking into account the way police work happens, and it’s not taking into account whatever else the investigation shows. It’s very concerning, because it suggests the investigation won’t be fair and the outcome has already been predetermined. I hope that’s not the case.”

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 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.

Eileen Figel, the Forest Preserve District’s deputy general superintendent, said there “needs to be a clear and appropriate response in these situations. We acknowledge that’s not what we saw."

But, she added, there also needs to be “due process to understand the entire context of what happened, including some things that are not captured on that video, and that’s what the investigation is designed to do.”

mwalberg@chicagotribune.com

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @mattwalberg

Twitter @royalpratt

MORE COVERAGE:

Preckwinkle apologizes to woman berated by man at forest preserve for wearing Puerto Rican flag shirt »

5 things: A civics lesson on Puerto Rico after man rants about woman's flag T-shirt, questions citizenship »



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