Cook County prosecutors are considering felony hate crime charge against the Chicago man accused of berating a woman at a forest preserve last month for wearing a shirt emblazoned with the flag of Puerto Rico.
The review comes as pressure mounts from political and legal circles to upgrade the charges against Timothy G. Trybus for his rant last month that was caught on video by the victim.
It also comes as news broke late Wednesday of the resignation of the Forest Preserve officer who was seen on the video seeming to ignore the woman's calls for assistance.
Trybus is currently facing charges of misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but on Wednesday, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Democrat, released a statement calling on the Cook County state's attorney to lodge stiffer charges.
"A charge for simple assault or disorderly conduct is not sufficient, this incident must be investigated and charged as a hate crime," Garcia said in a statement.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago-based Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois called for hate crime charges against Trybus.
"We demand State's Attorney Kim Foxx charge Timothy Trybus with a hate crime," the association said in a written statement. "This is warranted from Mr. Trybus' words and threatening action."
Cook County state's attorney's office spokesman Robert Foley said Wednesday that prosecutors were reviewing the case and considering whether to file hate crime charges, but that no decision had been made as of Wednesday afternoon. He would not comment further on the case.
The June 14 incident, which was captured on video at Caldwell Woods on Chicago's Far Northwest Side, came to light Monday; it prompted an apology from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who later said she expressed her regrets in a phone call to Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
More fallout came late Wednesday when the district announced that the officer in question, Patrick Connor, had resigned, effective immediately, days after the video footage of the encounter went viral. He had been placed on desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He could not be reached Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, a top official for the union that represents Connor asked people not to rush to judgment and noting videos can be misleading.
"I don't think it's appropriate to make that call that he should be fired until the investigation is done," said Tamara Cummings, general counsel for the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council. "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."
That process was to get underway Thursday when, before his resignation, Connor was expected to appear before an investigative hearing convened by the forest preserve police department.
Despite Connor's resignation, district officials said in a statement that the development 'isn't where our work ends." The agency is "further addressing aspects of this incident" and said General Superintendent Arnold Randall would provide more details on Thursday.
In the video that sparked the controversy, Trybus 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, 62, tells her.
Under Illinois law, prosecutors could seek to charge Trybus with a hate crime if they believe that any of the underlying charges were motivated by his bias against the victim, said Lonnie Nasatir, director of the Midwest region for the Anti-Defamation League.
"If you can prove this was in fact motivated by bias against a protected category – race, ethnicity, national origin or what have you – then the answer is it can be charged as a hate crime," said Nasatir, a former prosecutor in the Cook County state's attorney's office.
The fact that Trybus apparently did not make physical contact with the woman or cause damage to her property would not matter, Nasatir said, pointing to cases in which people have been charged with hate crimes for harassing people online.
In Illinois, a hate crime charge for a first offense is a Class 4 felony, but is automatically upgraded to a more serious Class 3 felony under certain circumstances – including if the crime occurred in a public park.
Nasatir said he watched the video of Trybus' rant, and said if he were prosecuting the case, "I would definitely take a long look at" upgrading the charges to a hate crime.
"From the statements (Trybus) made, and the language used, it's something that certainly should be seriously looked at to see if the hate crime enhancement is appropriate," he said.
According to video footage of the encounter, 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 the 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.
Trybus, who has been unable to be reached for comment, is expected in court next month. It was unclear if he had an attorney.
Garcia criticized forest preserve officials for not acting more quickly, noting that the incident took place June 14 and is still under investigation.
"That timeline is not acceptable. The Forest Preserve must complete the investigation swiftly and discipline the officer involved accordingly, up to and including termination," Garcia said.
Garcia is the heavy favorite in this fall's election to replace U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who declined to run for re-election and has said he plans to move to Puerto Rico after his term ends in January. Gutierrez has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shirt incident.
Gutierrez, who called the incident a "racist, ugly, vicious attack," said he and his wife sent flowers to the woman with a simple note, "We're proud of you."
In an interview she gave to Carlos Jimenez Flores, posted on the web site of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago, the woman said that when the officer did not respond to the situation in the manner she thought he should, "I knew at that moment that, you know, I was really being treated like the minority in that situation and if I had acted out in an aggressive way, in a defensive way – just to protect myself from being put in harm's way – I probably would have been criminalized by the officer."
She said she Trybus' actions made her "genuinely fearful for what could have happened to me."
(Chicago Tribune's Paige Fry contributed.)