Chicago Sports

No pension for CPD officer fired for beating of bartender caught on video, court rules

A state appeals court ruled that former Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate can’t collect a city pension after he was convicted of battery for attacking a Northwest Side bartender in 2007.

While Abbate was off-duty when he kicked and punched Karolina Obrycka in a drunken rage, a three-judge panel found that Abbate felt his status as a cop gave him impunity to act however he wanted and that he used his connections on the force to try to avoid arrest.

The ruling issued Monday overturns a Cook County judge’s finding that Abbate was entitled to his pension because there was no clear link between his job and the assault, a beating that was captured on security video.

Abbate was convicted of aggravated battery in 2009 and sentenced to probation, and subsequently fired from CPD. A federal jury awarded Obrycka $850,000 from the city, finding that Abbate’s fellow officers tried to protect him during the investigation of the crime, and that the code of silence among officers encouraged misconduct.

Abbate filed paperwork with the pension board to collect his pension in 2018, when he turned 50. The board ruled the following year that he was disqualified from receiving benefits, but was entitled to a refund of pension contributions made during his slightly more than 12 years on the force. Abbate would have been eligible for payments of $539 per month.

Cook County Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled in 2019 that the board had not established a clear link between the crime that cost Abbate his job and his status as a police officer, a ruling the appellate panel found “erroneous.”

“Looking at the totality of the evidence presented before the [pension] board, Abbate’s felony conviction for aggravated battery was related to or connected with his service as a policeman,” Appeals Court Judge Aurelia Pucinski wrote, citing evidence introduced in Abbate’s federal civil rights trial, including that Abbate assaulted two different bar patrons in separate incidents before he attacked Obrycka, and that no one contacted police.

“While he was at the bar, he announced that he was a Chicago police officer and repeatedly displayed his ‘muscles’ to the other bar patrons. After these two physical assaults, no one called the police to report Abbate’s misconduct. When he was beating Obrycka, he announced that ‘nobody tells me what to do.'”

Police who arrived at the bar after the attack left while the bar owner was downloading security video of the assault. Phone records showed Abbate called his partner 13 times in the hours after he fled the bar, and also called an officer who was related to a lieutenant in the 25th District, where the attack took place. According to testimony in the civil rights trial, days after the assault, another bartender who was friendly with Abbate delivered a threat that if Obrycka and the bar owner didn’t give Abbate the video, he would plant drugs on bar staff and have customers arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Obrycka’s lawyer, Terry Ekl, said he had been puzzled by the initial court ruling that would have granted Abatte his pension.

“The ruling of the circuit court judge is impossible to reconcile with the facts of the case,” Ekl wrote in an email to the Sun-Times. “A tremendous amount of evidence was presented in the federal civil rights case to demonstrate his use of his position as a police officer to attempt to cover-up his beating of Ms. Obrycka. The Appellate Court decision corrects the erroneous decision in the trial court to provide Abbate with a taxpayer-funded pension.”

The lawyer who handled Abatte’s appeal, Ralph Licari, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Bears pick Raiders assistant Travis Smith as defensive line coach

The Bears are hiring Travis Smith as their defensive line coach, NFL Network reported Tuesday.

Smith knows the Bears’ highest-profile player, Khalil Mack. He’s spent the last 10 seasons working for the Raiders, first in Oakland and then Las Vegas. Smith held various defensive positions — defensive assistant, then defensive quality control and outside linebackers — before being named the Raiders’ assistant defensive line coach in 2018.

It was in 2014 that Smith, whose responsibilities included helping out with coaching the Raiders’ linebackers, contributed to Mack’s development as a rookie. The next year, he coached both Mack and defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr., who is now a member of the Bears. Bruce Irvin, who finished the season on the Bears’ roster, also played for Smith.

Smith spent the last two years working for Raiders defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, the former Bears coordinator whom head coach Matt Eberflus considers a mentor.

Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams are close to finishing up the team’s defensive coaching staff. They brought linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi, defensive backs coach James Rowe, assistant defensive backs coach David Overstreet II with them from the Colts.

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Mother, 88, and son, 70, found dead in apartment fire in Old Irving Park

An apartment fire in Old Irving Park that left an 88-year-old mother and her son dead early Tuesday was likely caused by smoking materials tossed in a bin, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in the 3600 block of North Kedvale Avenue and found the home cluttered with items that made it difficult to search, fire department spokesperson Larry Langford said.

The mother and son were found after 2:30 a.m. on the first floor and pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

They were identified as Marian Frieri, 88, and Michael Frieri, 70, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The building had been without heat for a while and space heaters were being used in the house, Langford said. The mother and son were the only occupants of the building.

An initial investigation found that the likely cause was “careless use of smoking materials” discarded in a bin, he said.

After the fire, firefighters and Ald. James Gardiner (45th) canvassed the block to pass out smoke detectors.

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Mother, 88, and son, 70, found dead in apartment fire in Old Irving Park

An apartment fire in Old Irving Park that left an 88-year-old mother and her son dead early Tuesday was likely caused by smoking materials tossed in a bin, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in the 3600 block of North Kedvale Avenue and found the home cluttered with items that made it difficult to search, fire department spokesperson Larry Langford said.

The woman and the man, 70, were pronounced dead at the scene after 2:30 a.m. Their names have not been released.

The building had been without heat for a while and space heaters were being used in the house, Langford said. The mother and son were the only occupants of the building.

An initial investigation found that the likely cause was “careless use of smoking materials” discarded in a bin, he said.

After the fire, the department and Ald. James Gardiner (45th) canvassed the block to pass out smoke detectors.

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Lightfoot asks working group to ‘reimagine’ museum campus — with or without the Bears

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday asked nearly two dozen prominent Chicagoans to “re-imagine” the 57-acre museum campus and recommend ways to “maximize” its year-round benefits — with or without the Chicago Bears.

Ever since the Bears signed an agreement to purchase the 326-acre site of the now-shuttered Arlington International Racecourse for $197.2 million, Lightfoot has sounded almost resigned to moving on at Soldier Field without the team.

With or without the Bears, Lightfoot said she was intent on improving the fan experience at Soldier Field and maximizing year-round revenues.

The 23-member “working group” appointed by the mayor to move the ball over the goal line will be chaired by Mesirow Chairman and CEO Richard Price.

Former Chicago Plan Commission Chairman Martin Cabrera, CEO of Cabrera Capital, will serve as so-called “athletic facilities lead.” Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann will lead discussions on “open space and recreation” issues. Former Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner-turned-Poetry Foundation President Michelle Boone will marshal debate on cultural amenities.

Price and Cabrera could not be reached for comment.

Although the Bears lease at Soldier Field runs until 2033, Friends of the Park Executive Director Juanita Irizarry, another appointee, said she’s assuming “the Bears have already decided to be out the door.”

Irizarry is eager to explore “what can be done to maximize open space in the area between the museum campus and Lakeside East,” the oldest and least utilized building at McCormick Place.

“One of our biggest priorities is to remind the city that Mayor Daley made a commitment to move the Soldier Field parking lot to the west side of Lake Shore Drive back when the museum campus was created and that commitment was never fulfilled,” Irizarry said.

“We see this as a great opportunity to green that area and make sure there’s not a proliferation of a carnival-like atmosphere along the lakefront.”

A new museum campus gateway under DuSable Lake Shore Drive is shown in 1998, when the road was moved and a museum campus was created. Now, Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to “reimagine” that campus, which includes the Shedd Aquarium (left) and Field Museum (right). One looming question is whether the Chicago Bears will continue to play in Soldier Field, just south of the Field Museum, after their lease is up.Associated Press

Friends of the Parks has already been in discussions with potential casino developers eager to build on or near the lakefront and with the Shedd Aquarium about its ambitious capital plan.

One of the five competing proposals calls for the rebirth and rebirth of the underutilized Lakeside Center. Another would use the oldest building on the convention center complex as a temporary casino.

Working group member Jerry Adelmann serves as president and CEO of Openlands, one of the advocates and authors of Chicago’s Lakefront Protection ordinance.

He is dead-set against “new construction, new buildings” within the museum campus and determined to create more open space and enhance natural habitats, noting: “Birding is big business.”

Adelmann argued the possibilities for Soldier Field are endless — particularly if the Bears make the move to Arlington Heights.

“It’s an amazing location for cultural and sports events. Are there things that could continue? Should it be transformed? Should the new part of the stadium be removed and go back to the original? There are so many questions,” Adelmann said.

Noting Openlands was “not pleased” with the much-ridiculed renovation of Soldier Field, Adelmann even raised the possibility of maintaining the historic collonades and turning the seating bowl into an open-air concert venue, akin to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

“What a spectacular setting on our lakefront for those kinds of activities — be they sports or cultural,” Adelmann said.

“Who would manage? How would you support it? What kinds of activities? It raises endless questions. But certainly, the re-use of the original Soldier Field, should the Bears leave, is something that would be attractive to many people.”

Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jack Lavin, yet another member, said he is “not assuming the Bears are gone” — and even if they are, investments probably must be made to “maximize the economic opportunity of the entire museum campus, of which Soldier Field is a part.”

“What can we do to make it a more valuable sporting venue — whether it’s football or other sports or if we have concerts there? If you put a dome over it, there’s lots of things you could do. You could have a Big Ten football championship. You could have a basketball NCAA tournament. You could have concerts year-round. That’s one option we could look at,” Lavin said.

“When we talk about tourism, people want to see entertainment districts. And the museum campus is an entertainment district with the museums, Soldier Field, Northerly Island, the open space and, possibly a casino nearby soon. Every piece of it can add value to the economy of Chicago. … By bringing tourists back. By bringing conventions back. By getting people excited to come back downtown to work, to go to different activities.”

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No pension for CPD officer fired for beating of bartender caught on video, court rules

A state appeals court ruled that former Chicago Police officer Anthony Abbate can’t collect a city pension after he was convicted of battery for attacking a Northwest Side bartender in 2007.

While Abbate was off-duty when he kicked and punched Karolina Obrycka in a drunken rage, a three-judge panel found that Abbate felt his status as a cop gave him impunity to act however he wanted and that he used his connections on the force to try to avoid arrest.

The ruling issued Monday overturns a Cook County judge’s finding that Abbate was entitled to his pension because there was no clear link between his job and the assault, a beating that was captured on security video.

Abbate was convicted of aggravated battery in 2009 and sentenced to probation, and subsequently fired from CPD. A federal jury awarded Obrycka $850,000 from the city, finding that Abbate’s fellow officers tried to protect him from consequences and that the code of silence among officers encouraged misconduct.

Abbate filed paperwork with the pension board to collect his pension in 2018, when he turned 50. The board ruled the following year that he was disqualified from receiving benefits, but was entitled to have his pension contributions made during his 13 years on the force refunded.

Cook County Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled in 2019 that the board had not established a clear link between the crime that cost Abbate his job and Abbate’s status as a police officer, a ruling the appellate panel found “erroneous.”

“Looking at the totality of the evidence presented before the [pension] board, Abbate’s felony conviction for aggravated battery was related to or connected with his service as a policeman,” Appeals Court Judge Aurelia Pucinski wrote, citing evidence introduced in Abbate’s federal civil rights trial, including that Abbate assaulted two different bar patrons in separate incidents before he attacked Obrycka, and that no one contacted police.

“While he was at the bar, he announced that he was a Chicago police officer and repeatedly displayed his ‘muscles’ to the other bar patrons. After these two physical assaults, no one called the police to report Abbate’s misconduct. When he was beating Obrycka, he announced that ‘nobody tells me what to do.'”

Police who arrived at the bar after the attack left while the bar owner was downloading security video of the assault. Phone records showed Abbate called his partner 13 times in the hours after he fled the bar, and also called an officer who was related to a lieutenant in the 25th District, where the attack took place. According to testimony in the civil rights trial, days after the assault, another bartender who was friendly with Abbate delivered a threat that if Obrycka and the bar owner didn’t give Abbate the video, he would plant drugs on bar staff and have customers arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Obrycka’s lawyer, Terry Ekl, said he had been puzzled by the initial court ruling that would have granted Abatte his pension.

“The ruling of the circuit court judge is impossible to reconcile with the facts of the case,” Ekl wrote in an email to the Sun-Times. “A tremendous amount of evidence was presented in the federal civil rights case to demonstrate his use of his position as a police officer to attempt to cover-up his beating of Ms. Obrycka. The Appellate Court decision corrects the erroneous decision in the trial court to provide Abbate with a taxpayer-funded pension.”

The lawyer who handled Abatte’s appeal, Ralph Licari, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Bulls roster has suddenly become overly fragile in imperfect NBA season

Zach LaVine was trying to do his best to calm the moment.

After watching the Phoenix Suns come into the United Center on Monday night, and promptly give LaVine and his Bulls teammates a basketball clinic, the All-Star guard was asked about yet another poor showing against another upper-echelon NBA team from the Western Conference.

“Good thing we don’t have to play them until obviously at the end,” LaVine said with a quick snicker, referring to dealing with the West in the NBA Finals.

A good point. Just not exactly an accurate one.

The loss to the Suns dropped the Bulls to 1-11 against the top seven teams in the league record-wise, but only four of those losses have come against the Western Conference, and yes, not once were the Bulls at full strength.

The issue, however, is getting out of the Eastern Conference, full strength or not.

Ah yes, full strength.

The buzzword used throughout the Advocate Center and the Bulls fan base frequently the last month. It’s a fact that the Bulls haven’t been at full strength. That became the reality just five games into the season, when Patrick Williams was lost with torn ligaments in his wrist.

The issue is that reality has seemingly become too big of a crutch.

Few teams have been whole this season, and that includes some Hall of Fame players sitting around in street clothes. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis to name a few.

It’s been win by attrition in 2021-22, not hope for injured players to walk through that door and rescue a sinking ship.

That’s why this Bulls team is being a bit unrealistic about what 100% healthy will look like for them.

Take Williams out of it for a moment, especially since he had been absent most of the season, and they’ve shown an ability to dominate teams without him.

Of the 12 games against those elite seven, the Bulls were at full strength three times. Full strength for the Bulls means the three All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, as well as defensive standouts Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.

The full-strength Bulls lost to Philadelphia in the first two meetings – they’ve lost to the 76ers in all three meetings so far – and then Miami in the first of two losses. An 0-3 record against potential second-round opponents by an average score of 5.7 points.

But here’s where the point falls a bit short for the Bulls: In the other nine games, they still had fire power on both ends of the floor.

In the second loss to Miami they had Vucevic, Ball, Caruso and LaVine. Same bodies in the first loss to the Cavaliers.

In the blowout loss to the Warriors they were without Vucevic, but had everyone else. In the rematch, they were without Caruso, and LaVine did leave early.

And that’s the real point. This group has suddenly become so fragile when one of their three All-Star-caliber players or one of their two better defenders sits. Contending teams shouldn’t need every single dish around them to be the perfect temperature.

That’s not realistic in the NBA.

And it’s not like they’ve been void of talent when facing the league’s elite. In five of the 11 losses, the Bulls have had their three All-Stars start the game. Not many teams in the Association are starting two current All-Stars and one former.

With Ball (knee surgery), Caruso (wrist surgery) and Williams expected back in late March, even then little will be promised.

So is the trade route a necessity before Thursday’s deadline? Maybe. Then again, trading a package that includes injury excuses and bad draft picks might not bring back a very strong return.

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‘Groundhog Day’ musical a shadow of its movie self

The book is repetitious, even for a show about a glitch in the space-time continuum. The score is forgettable, even though there’s a full-on marching band involved. And while the story closely follows the beloved 1993 movie that inspired it, the Paramount Theatre’s production of “Groundhog Day: The Musical” just doesn’t capture the original’s irresistible charm.

The problem with the production, running through March 13 at the Aurora theater, isn’t the cast. Director Jim Corti has pulled out all the stops in staging the show, a seven-time Tony Award nominee. The set is cleverly cinematic. The Paramount’s robust live orchestra fills the old vaudeville palace with a lush, intricate sound. And Corti’s 29-strong cast delivers some of the most beautifully blended ensemble vocals you’re apt to hear on a stage this year.

‘Groundhog Day: The Musical’ : 2 out of 4

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But for all that, somewhere between the screen and the stage, something in “Groundhog Day: The Musical” has been lost in translation. Danny Rubin’s book (Rubin also co-wrote the screenplay with the late Harold Ramis, the movie’s director) and Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics often feel hollow and without a heart.

The main issue is with anti-hero Phil Connors (aka the Bill Murray role in the movie), a cynical weatherman (played here by Alex Syiek) assigned to cover the elaborate Groundhog Day festivities in tiny Punxsutawney. In his appropriately smug delivery, Phil’s derision for the townsfolk is so thick you could almost spread it with a knife. He recoils with a city slicker’s horror at the decor in the quaint bed and breakfast where he’s staying. He sneers at the parade featuring the Marching Chucks band, the speeches from local dignitaries, and especially the seven-foot groundhog mascot that seems to be omnipresent in Punxsutawney. When he is not sneering, Phil hits on his producer Rita (Phoebe Gonz?lez), who somehow refrains from punching him.

Alex Syiek plays TV weatherman Phil Connors and Phoebe Gonz?lez portrays his producer, Rita, in a scene from “Groundhog Day: The Musical” at the Paramount Theatre.Liz Lauren

After a day of smirking at the provincial townsfolk and broadcasting the groundhog’s emergence from his burrow, Phil wakes the next morning to find it’s Groundhog Day all over again. And again. And again. Same Punxsutawney broadcast, same annoying mascot, same over-excited locals, same cutesy B&B. When Phil realizes he’s stuck re-living Feb. 2 ad infinitum, he initially embraces hedonism, secure in the knowledge that no matter what he does, he’ll wind up back in bed. But as the Groundhog Days pile up, hedonism gives way to despair, which in turn gives way to something like hope for Phil, hope borne of newfound compassion and self-awareness.

Unfortunately, the musical gives Phil two modes to work with: Apex narcissist or Albert Schweitzer. There are no levels in between, and that makes Phil’s evolution seem more like a plot contrivance than an earned, believable redemption.

In the key role of producer Rita Hanson, Gonz?lez lights up the stage as a driven, talented boss with a sunny outlook and the authoritative air of someone who knows they’re in charge and are good at what they do. Hanson’s wattage grows stronger every time Phil acts like a jerk.

The musical carefully references the movie’s supporting characters. Kyle Adams wrings comedy and the pathos from Ned Ryerson, a garrulously charming insurance salesman dealing with his own inner darkness. Haley Jane Schafer’s Nancy Taylor pulls on the heartstrings in “Playing Nancy,” a plea to be seen as more than just a pretty face.

The musical looks great throughout. Set Designer Courtney O’Neill has enclosed the cast in a cross between a gigantic snow globe and a geodesic dome. It’s beautiful and allows for projection designer Mike Tutaj’s various winter-wonderland scenarios (and hilariously massive groundhog images) to unfold.

The Punxsutawney townsfolk celebrate all things Groundhog in “Groundhog Day: The Musical” at the Paramount Theatre.Liz Lauren

“Groundhog Day” is at its best when the entire ensemble is in full voice, their vocals meshing in “One Day” and “Seeing You” like seamless silk under music director/conductor Kory Danielson’s direction.

On screen or stage, “Groundhog Day” has always been about more than some hiccuppy wrinkle in time. It’s about feeling stuck. It’s about the challenges that come with taking a good, hard look at one’s ugliest traits. It’s about getting unstuck, whether it’s from a destructive romantic pattern or negative feedback loop. But when you can’t believe in the journey of weatherman Phil Connors, the power of “Groundhog Day” is completely overshadowed.

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J Balvin, Ozuna to headline Latin reggaeton music festival in Grant Park

J Balvin, Ozuna and Wisin & Yandel are scheduled to headline the inaugural Sue?os Music Festival in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend, it was announced Tuesday.

The two-day festival, set for May 28-29 in Grant Park, is being billed as the largest Latin reggaeton event ever held in the lakefront park. It’s being presented by the producers behind the Baja Beach Fest, Lollapalooza and Reventon Promotions.

The single-stage concert event, which boasts an entirely Latin music lineup, will also feature performances by Myke Towers, El Alfa, Jhay Cortez, Sech, Fuerza Regida, Cauty and La Gabi, among others.

The Sue?os (which translates as dream) festival marks “the Prince of Reggaeton” J Balvin’s only scheduled 2022 Chicago appearance (his first since Lollapalooza 2019) and Ozuna’s return to Chicago for the first time in four years. Wisin & Yandel are on the road as part of their La Ultima Mision final tour.

In addition to the music, the event will also celebrate Latin culture, art, food and beverage curated from some of the best restaurants and local purveyors. A ferris wheel, bars/cocktail lounges and art installations will also be available on the festival grounds.

Over a decade ago, I started Reventon Promotions with a dream of bringing authentic and diverse Hispanic entertainment to Chicago,” said Enrique Medrano of Reventon Promotions in Tuesday’s announcement. “Now I am excited and proud to be part of the first Sue?os festival, an event that celebrates the Hispanic presence in the city, in addition to being held in the iconic and representative Grant Park right in the heart of downtown. What better place is there for thousands of people from different Latin American countries to meet, share, and celebrate.”

Two-day general admission passes, two-day VIP passes and two-day Boleto de los Sue?os passes will be available in a special pre-sale beginning at noon Feb. 11; registration for the pre-sale is required and now available at www.suenosmusicfestival.com. General on-sale kicks off at 2 p.m. Feb. 11 at www.suenosmusicfestival.com. The festival is open only to persons 18+.

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Bears’ Justin Fields makes his own ownership claim to Wisconsin

Aaron Rodgers claimed to own the Bears. But Justin Fields has an ownership stake in Wisconsin.

Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl, sportswear retailer Lids released a map showing the best-selling player jersey for each state. And it’s no surprise that Patrick Mahomes leads in Missouri, Joe Burrow is tops in Ohio and Tom Brady is the king of Florida.

It was a bit of a shock to see Fields as the top-selling jersey in Packer-land. (Has Rodgers – who could wind up leaving Green Bay already worn out his welcome?)

Whatever the case, the folks in Green Bay can at least take solace that the Packers jerseys overall are still topping the sales charts up north.

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