Woman harassed for wearing Puerto Rican shirt speaks out
CHICAGO -- A woman shown on a video being confronted by a man because she was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Puerto Rican flag said Friday that the only action a park officer took to defuse the situation was to tell her cousin who'd stepped in to protect her to calm down.
Speaking at a news conference surrounded by leaders of Chicago's Puerto Rican community, Mia Irizarry recounted the June 14 incident that received national attention after release of the video. Hate crime charges have been filed against 62-year-old Timothy Trybus, and Chicago forest preserve officer Patrick Connor has resigned.
"It was extremely surreal to think that someone whose job is to protect and serve could just completely walk away..." she said at a park in a Chicago neighborhood with a large Puerto Rican population, in her first public comments about the incident. "If I hadn't recorded it I am pretty sure (the incident) would not have ended with my safety."
Irizarry, who was in the Chicago's Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve when she was confronted by Trybus, recounted the feeling of helplessness she felt after Trybus asked if the flag on the shirt was that of Texas and responded that it was the flag of Puerto Rico.
Trybus scolded her, saying: "You should not be wearing that in the United States of America," and questioned her about whether she was an American citizen. Connor appeared to stand quietly several feet away. She said that "just encouraged (Trybus) to be more aggressive. So I was scared."
Puerto Rican citizens automatically have U.S. citizenship.
She said she remains "severely disappointed" that Connor quit without publicly explaining his decision not to come to her aid.
"I will never get to hear from this man, this protector, his reasoning for why my safety, no, my life, had such little value to him," she said, adding that she grateful that he no longer has a job where he might treat other like her.
A Chicago alderman and a state senator of Puerto Rican descent said the fallout from the incident is not over. State Senator Omar Aquino urged Irizarry to sue the officer, reminding her that he pushed through legislation that allows her to "sue someone for a hate crime."
Alderman Roberto Maldonado, wearing a t-shirt with a flag of Puerto Rico on it, urged Chicago residents to wear similar shirts on July 20 to protest her treatment.
Trybus appeared in court Friday on charges of a hate crime, assault and disorderly conduct. His attorney, David Goldman, characterized his client's behavior toward Irizarry as "obnoxious," but attributed it to a combination of alcohol and pain pills after having six teeth removed the day before.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office said that Judge Earl Hoffenberg ordered Trybus released on his promise to appear in court. He also ordered him placed on electronic home monitoring, to undergo alcohol assessment, and prohibited him from having any contact with Irizarry or any witnesses in the case or set foot on forest preserve property.
He is scheduled to return to court Aug. 1.
This version of the story corrects that Trybus appeared in court on Friday not Thursday.