A Cook County jury on Thursday awarded nearly $2 million to a former Chicago police officer who was removed from her post in the department’s press office after she reported being verbally assaulted by a fellow officer.
In her whistleblower lawsuit, former Chicago Police Officer Laura Kubiak alleged she was moved out of her job at police headquarters and assigned to an overnight shift in a high-crime neighborhood as retaliation by department higher-ups after she reported another officer confronted her at work, shouted profanities at her and made her feel physically threatened.
The officer who screamed at Kubiak was not moved out of his position at police headquarters.
Kubiak claims that Officer Veejay Zala confronted her as she was finishing her shift in November 2012, prevented her from leaving and raised a hand to her, making her fear he would strike her.
Kubiak said Zala asked her “who the f*** do you think you are, you stupid b****?” And then said “you are nothing...I am the real police.”
Kubiak told her immediate supervisors about the confrontation. Three months later she was transferred out of the Office of News Affairs.
During the trial, the city admitted that Zala both confronted Kubiak and said the things she described, and that Kubiak was transferred a few months after she made her complaint. However, the city maintained that Kubiak’s position change was a normal reassignment, and not linked to her complaint against a fellow officer.
On Thursday evening, the jury sided with Kubiak, who said she was victimized by the “code of silence” within the Chicago Police Department. The jurors awarded Kubiak more than $400,000 in lost wages and almost $1.5 million for emotional distress.
Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said they were “disappointed” in the verdict and weighing their options.
Two former Chicago police superintendents testified during the trial. Former superintendent Garry McCarthy was in charge of the department when Kubiak was reassigned from her longtime post in the Office of News Affairs, which is part of the Office of the Superintendent.
McCarthy testified that he did not recall ever being told about the confrontation, which happened at police headquarters. He said he did not know why he was not told about it.
An attorney for Kubiak asked McCarthy if he had given the people below him the impression that he “did not want to know” about allegations of officer misconduct.
“Never in a million years would I say something like that or give that philosophy to officers,” McCarthy responded.
McCarthy also testified that there was no code of silence within the police department when he was in charge.
Former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard also took the stand. Hillard ran the Chicago Police Department from 1998-2003, and for a brief period in 2011. Hillard was in charge when Kubiak was first assigned to the Office of News Affairs, which handles media requests.
Hillard testified that Kubiak “is a decent, honorable individual who just happened to get caught up in the system.”
“This should never have happened to her,” Hillard said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.