By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — A judge found three Chicago police officers not guilty Tuesday of attacking two brothers in a tavern brawl caught on surveillance video, good news for a department that has weathered a host of allegations of police misconduct and brutality in recent years.
Officers who packed the courtroom started to clap as Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. announced the verdict. They were quickly admonished by the judge but clapped again after the hearing adjourned.
Gainer said he reviewed the evidence against officers Paul Powers and Gregory Barnes and Sgt. Jeffery Planey, including the DVD of the surveillance tape and audio recordings.
"And after doing all that, I have come to the conclusion that the state failed to meet its burden of proof on any of the charges," he said.
Prosecutors left court without commenting.
Powers, Barnes and Planey were charged with aggravated battery. Planey also was charged with official misconduct and obstruction of justice.
The three were among a group of six officers at the Jefferson Tap & Grille on Dec. 15, 2006. Attorneys said they were consoling Powers, whose father had recently died.
Prosecutors told the judge that the officers jumped Barry and Aaron Gilfand and two of their friends as they played pool; defense attorneys countered that the Gilfands provoked the officers by teasing Powers, who was crying.
"There was basically a pushing and shoving match between two groups of grown men, all of whom should have been behaving differently," Tom Needham, Planey's attorney, said after the hearing. "But every time someone's pushed in a bar or every time there's an argument in a bar, that doesn't mean that a crime has been committed."
The Chicago Police Department has seen the city pay out $20 million to settle lawsuits filed by suspects who claimed they were tortured by investigators. In recent months, the department has been the brunt of jokes for allowing a 14-year-old boy posing as an officer to ride along in a squad car.
The case decided Tuesday was one of two highly publicized incidents in which off-duty Chicago officers faced charges after brawls at taverns were videotaped.
The other one gained international attention after a tape of a burly officer pummeling a female bartender half his size was released to the public and played countless times on television and the Internet.
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Anthony Abbate has pleaded not guilty in the February 2007 beating and is awaiting trial.