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Video appears to show forest preserves officer failing to help woman being harassed for wearing shirt with Puerto Rican flag design

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Buckley, Pratt, Walberg &Paige Fry

Video appears to show forest preserves officer failing to help woman being harassed over Puerto Rican flag shirt

 and Contact ReportersChicago Tribune

An officer for the Cook County Forest Preserves has been assigned to desk duty after a video appeared to show him failing to help a woman who was being harassed because she wore a shirt designed to look like the Puerto Ricanflag.

The June 14 incident came to light Monday when the video, apparently taken in Caldwell Woods on the Far Northwest Side, went viral. By Tuesday morning, it had gotten 1.7 million views and the governor of Puerto Rico was tweeting about it.

In the video, a man — later identified in police reports as Timothy G. 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. commonwealth.

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

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The woman asks an officer for help and asks him to restrain Trybus. The officer is visible in the background of the video, standing several yards from Trybus and woman, but he does not appear to respond to the woman’s requests for help.

“Officer, I’m renting this area and he’s harassing me about the shirt I’m wearing,” the woman says.

A five-minute clip of the video showing the exchange between Trybus and the woman went viral, but a longer, 36-minute video of the incident and the aftermath showed that after additional officers arrived, the first officer on the scene eventually sat down to take a statement from the woman and her brother.

As the officer wrote in a small notebook, the woman explained what happened, and noted that she asked the officer for help. In a subsequent police report obtained from the Forest Preserve District Police Department, the officer did not include any mention of the woman’s request for assistance.

In the longer video, the officer explained that he had been called to the preserve in response to an alleged incident between Trybus’ male companion and another woman, and appeared to try to assure the woman that Trybus did not pose any threat to her safety.

“So, uh, now that I see what’s going on, I see what’s happening between you and them,” the officer said in the video. “So, uh, at no time was he going to attack you. He’s just a big mouth.”

But the woman was not convinced.

“Well, I guess you just never know,” she said curtly. “You just never know.”

“You never know,” the officer said.

Trybus was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct, according to the Forest Preserves agency, which described the man as intoxicated.

“All people are welcome in the Forest Preserves of Cook County and no one should feel unsafe while visiting our preserves,” the agency tweeted.

Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, commented on the incident in four tweets on Twitter. He called the incident “undignified” and said he was “appalled, shocked & disturbed.” He said Puerto Rico officials were contacting authorities in the Chicago area and Illinois “demanding that this officer be expelled from the police force.”

Rossello also tweeted that he was sure Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle “will take matter(s) into her hands as justice and diversity have been central to her exemplary career.”

He tweeted: “This is not the America we believe in.”

Preckwinkle on Tuesday called the incident “completely unacceptable” and offered her apologies to the victim for the “terrible experience.”

“I’m troubled by the response of the initial officer on the scene,” Preckwinkle said.

She said the officer should have intervened as the man in the video “was abusive and offensive in his behavior” and the woman had a permit to use the space. But when asked if the officer should be fired, Preckwinkle said she doesn’t know the specific rules in the Forest Preserve for conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Preckwinkle said the Forest Preserves intend to use the video in future training exercises.

About five minutes into the video, a man with the woman can be heard yelling at the officer that he wanted the alleged offender arrested.

“You won’t come talk to me,” the man says to the officer. “How is that justice?”

The officer responds: “Just relax.” A little later, the officer tells them to “just wait. Wait a minute. All right?”

The woman is asked by the man off-camera why the man approached her.

“Because I’m wearing a Puerto Rico shirt,” she said. “That was it. He started saying,’’Why are you wearing that here? Why are you wearing that here? This is America.’”

When the man off camera asks what the officer was doing, she says,"He was watching. Literally watching. And I told him multiple times, I’m like, ‘I do not feel comfortable. Can you please grab him?’ I said it multiple times and he was just standing there, and I have it on camera too.’’

Later, a second police vehicle pulls up.

“Hopefully this police officer will actually do something,” the woman says.

By this point, Trybus, who appears to be heavily intoxicated, is seated at a picnic table and is arguing with a female officer who has come upon the scene.

That officer says, “People have a permit for this area, OK? And you don’t need to badgering them…”

The officer later says: “People have just as much right to be here as you do, and when you’re drunk you don’t belong here.”

Trybus responds: “When I’m drunk, I don’t belong here.”

“That’s right” the female officer says. “It’s called disorderly conduct. OK? You wanna argue?”

When the female officer approached the woman, she complained that the initial officer did not respond to her pleas for help. “... He (the first officer) was just watching. Literally was just standing there watching the whole thing happen, like nothing,” she said.

Check back for updates.

Pioneer Press reporter Kathy Routliffe contributed.



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