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Woman harassed over Puerto Rican flag shirt says officer "blatantly ignored" her pleas for help

CHICAGO -- A woman who was harassed over her Puerto Rican flag T-shirt at a Chicago-area forest preserve last month as an officer stood by without intervening spoke out Friday. Mia Irizarry said at a press conference she feared for her safety during the June 14 incident and that the officer "blatantly ignored" her pleas for help.

The man seen on video harassing Irizarry, who police later identified as 62-year-old Timothy Trybus, was charged Wednesday with two felony hate crime counts in addition to the misdemeanor counts of assault and disorderly conduct he already faced. The officer, identified as Patrick Connor of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, was placed on desk duty on June 26, after apparently taking a pre-scheduled vacation shortly after the incident. He resigned on his own accord Wednesday, officials said.

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Mia Irizarry, who was harassed for wearing a shirt with a Puerto Rican flag, spoke out Friday.

WBBM

Irizarry said she finds the actions of Trybus and the officer "equally offensive." She said she was "severely disappointed" that the officer stepped down from the force before he explained his motivations.

"I will never get to hear from this man, this protector, the reason for why my safety -- no, my life -- had such little value to him," Irizarry said. "Why an American citizen would not reap the benefits of the police force when it was most needed."

The video, which has gone viral, shows Trybus approaching Irizarry as she waited for her family at a picnic area in the Forest Preserves of Cook County to celebrate her 24th birthday. Irizarry, a veterinary technician, said Friday Trybus and two other people were sitting in a picnic shelter for which she had purchased a permit, so she approached them and asked them to leave. Trybus asked her twice if the flag on her T-shirt was a Texas flag, she said, and she replied both times that it was a Puerto Rican flag.

That's when she said Trybus moved closer to her and stepped on a table. She said she felt threatened by his behavior so she took out her cellphone and began to record.

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Timothy Trybus, 62, faces two felony hate crime charges.

Cook County Forest Preserve Police

In the video, Trybus is seen telling Irizarry not to wear a T-shirt celebrating Puerto Rico if she's an American citizen -- despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

"You should not be wearing that in the United States of America," he said. "Are you a citizen?"

"Yes I am," Irizarry replied.

"Then you should not be wearing that. You should be wearing United States of America flag," he said.

Officer Connor then arrived, but the video shows he didn't intervene even as the Trybus invaded Irizarry's personal space and continued to harangue her as she asked for assistance.

"I pleaded multiple times with no help, and I can tell the man felt justified and that was fueling him to continue to be aggressive and continue to step towards me," Irizarry said Friday. "I was scared. I was definitely scared."

She said her cousin, who had stepped away before the encounter, returned from the car and intervened. At that point the officer told the cousin to step back. 

More officers eventually arrived and arrested Trybus. Irizarry is seen in the video filing a formal complaint and says that Connor did "absolutely zero."

Members of the Chicago Puerto Rican community also spoke at the press conference Friday, expressing outrage over the incident, demanding that Cook County officials enact measurable improvements for officer diversity training and investigate whether the officer is eligible for his pension.

"We've all heard this can't happen in Illinois," said Cristina Pacione-Zayas, co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago. "Well we want to know, what exactly are you going to put in place and what's the timeline to do it?"

In the wake of the incident, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle offered her apology to Irizarry and took the unusual step of calling Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico. Rossello said he wanted to see the officer fired.  

Speaking Thursday, Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo called the video of "appalling, gut-wrenching, and a real wake-up call to everyone." Arroyo said the situation could have escalated but that the victim kept her composure.

The officer "embarrassed many of our law enforcement officers and tarnished the whole department with his failure to act," Arroyo said.

The local police chief said Connor was very remorseful and that Connor thought he handled the incident appropriately.

On Thursday, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Arnold Randall said he is "outraged" and "sincerely sorry this happened." He said the department welcomed the hate crimes charges against the suspect and would continue to assist prosecutors in the investigation.

Irizarry called the officer a "coward" for resigning.

"I just want justice for the whole thing, and I want the ex-officer to really be held accountable, whatever that looks like," Irizarry said. "Of all the people who have apologized to me, the one person that hasn't is him."