A report by Samantha Schmidt for the Washington Post.
Mia Irizarry planned to spend her birthday last month celebrating with friends at Caldwell Woods, a sprawling forested area on Chicago’s Far Northwest Side. She purchased a permit to rent a picnic area in the park and arrived wearing a shirt that displayed the Puerto Rican flag.
It was this Puerto Rican flag shirt, she later told police, that triggered a man to repeatedly harass her, getting up close and snarling, “You should not be wearing that in the United States of America.” (Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and its residents are U.S. citizens.)
All the while, a police officer stood watching, ignoring Irizarry as she pleaded with him to intervene. Irizarry recorded the exchange in a Facebook Live video that has since been viewed more than 1.4 million times and drawn outcry from local leaders, members of Congress and the Puerto Rican governor himself.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, posted a string of tweets Monday night calling the video “an undignified event in which a Puerto Rican woman was brutally harassed by a bigot while an officer did not interfere. I am appalled, shocked & disturbed by the officer’s behavior.”
The governor demanded the officer be expelled from the police force. “He failed to deescalate the situation and therefore did not ensure a citizen’s safety,” Rosselló tweeted.
On Tuesday, the Forest Preserve District Police Department announced it had placed the police officer on desk duty last month pending an internal investigation into his conduct. The officer was identified as Patrick Connor, a 10-year member of the force who had previously been disciplined for working a part-time job and not carrying proper credentials, Forest Preserve District Police Chief Kelvin Pope said in a Tuesday news conference.
“The officer should have stepped in and he should have done something,” Pope said. Eileen Figel, the agency’s deputy general superintendent, described the video as “disturbing” and said the agency had apologized to Irizarry and refunded the money she spent renting the picnic area.
“No one should feel unsafe while visiting our preserves,” Figel said. “The aggressive behavior and racially charged and ignorant comments of the individual are appalling to all of us.”
In the video captured by Irizarry, she is heard explaining to the inebriated man that Puerto Rico is “part of the United States.” The man, later identified by police as Timothy G. Trybus, 62, continued hurling insults at her, asking if she was “uneducated.”
“You’re not going to change us, you know that,” Trybus is heard saying to her, adding that “the world is not going to change the United States of America, period.”
“I’m not trying to change anyone. I’m just trying to come here for a birthday,” Irizarry responds. He asks her if she is an American citizen, to which she responds that she is. “If you’re an American citizen you should not be wearing that shirt in America,” Trybus says.
Irizarry is heard asking the man to please get away from her, and begging the nearby officer, Connor, for help. “Officer, I feel highly uncomfortable. Can you please grab him?”
“Officer, I paid for a permit for this area,” she also says. “I do not feel comfortable with him here. Is there anything you can do?”
Another man, whom Irizarry later identified as her brother, is heard defending her, getting up close to Trybus and telling him, “Back up. Don’t follow her.”
Several minutes later, other police officers arrived to arrest Trybus. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County Police charged Trybus with assault and disorderly conduct, police officials said in a news conference Tuesday.
Irizarry is heard in the video telling a female police officer her account of what happened, and how Connor “literally was just standing there watching the whole thing happen like nothing.”
Later, Connor is seen writing in a notebook while Irizarry reports her complaint against Trybus.
“He approached me many times,” Irizarry tells Connor. “He continued to follow me, and I even asked you to step in because I felt uncomfortable.”
Connor explains to Irizarry that he was initially called to the scene for an unrelated incident between a different couple. “Now that I see what’s going on, at no time was he going to attack you. He’s just a big mouth,” Connor says.
“Well, I guess you just never know,” Irizarry responds.
“You never know, you’re right,” Connor says.
During Tuesday’s news conference, police officials clarified that the other police officers arrived after Connor called on his radio for assistance.
Luis Arroyo Jr., a Cook County Board Commissioner said he felt the officer “did not do his duty.”
“And I will not accept anything else but this officer’s termination,” Arroyo said.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), also decried the incident on Twitter, saying it reflects a “a culture of bigotry & hate that’s been condoned in US, which now feels unleashed to express itself in the most ugly & aggressive ways.”
“In this case, a US citizen questions the citizenship of another US citizen and American law-enforcement just sits back and watches,” he said. “Whether they are racists at a park, Cook County employees who do nothing, or Presidents who toss paper towels at people and denigrate Latinos w/ every Tweet, this is not the America we want to become & standing up to hate & bigotry must start at home.”
He was referring, of course, to President Trump’s visit to a hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico in October, in which he tossed rolls of towels into the crowd as if they were basketballs.
Gutiérrez went as far as to write a letter to the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to ask for an investigation into what happened to Irizarry.
“I understand this incident on a gut level because almost exactly the same thing happened to me when I was a freshman in Congress,” Gutiérrez wrote in the letter. “I was denied entry into the Capitol complex by U.S. Capitol Police despite being a Congressman with identification, because my daughter was carrying a Puerto Rican flag and the officer doubted that I could possibly be a Member of Congress.”
Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett on Tuesday, Puerto Rico’s governor said he was “appalled and disgusted” by the video. “It’s an issue of education, it’s an issue of civil rights and it’s an issue of basic human dignity.”
“Puerto Ricans have been part of the United States,” Rosselló reminded viewers. “We’ve been fighting wars with other fellow Americans. We are proud U.S. citizens. People need to understand that.”