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Woman says she was taunted with ‘hate and ugliness’ over Puerto Rico flag T-shirt

Chicago resident Timothy Trybus on trial for felony hate crime charge. Defense lawyer says client was “extremely drunk.”

Mia Irizarry speaks at a news conference in Chicago, Friday, July 13, 2018, about an incident where a man confronted her about a T-shirt she wore emblazoned with the Puerto Rican flag
Mia Irizarry speaks at a news conference in Chicago in July 2018.
AP file photo

As she prepared to gather with friends and family, Mia Irizarry expected to be “showered with birthday hugs.”

Instead, on that June day last year, the 24-year-old encountered a man taunting her with “hate and ugliness,” all because she wore a Puerto Rico flag shirt, a Cook County jury was told Tuesday.

That encounter, captured on Facebook Live and seen by people across the globe, forms the basis of the felony hate crime charges against Chicago resident Timothy Trybus, whose trial began Tuesday at the Skokie courthouse.

“This defendant made Mia feel frightened, demeaned and unwelcome in one of our treasured public open spaces,” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Kanter told jurors.

The incident happened in Caldwell Woods while Irizarry and a cousin were setting up for her birthday party. While Irizarry’s cousin went to retrieve some party supplies from their car, Trybus approached the young woman and asked her about her shirt, telling her she shouldn’t be wearing it. Throughout the video, played for jurors Tuesday, Trybus can be seen yelling at Irizarry.

Screen image of Timothy G. Trybus yelling at a woman in the Forest Preserve for wearing a Puerto Rican T-shirt.
Screen image of Timothy G. Trybus yelling at a woman in the Forest Preserve for wearing a Puerto Rican T-shirt.
via Facebook

Trybus was wearing a blue muscle shirt and white shorts — a striking contrast to the navy pinstripe suit he wore Tuesday.

In his opening statement, defense attorney David Goldman told jurors his client was intoxicated.

“Not just drunk, extremely drunk,” Goldman said.

He pointed out that throughout his client’s rant, Trybus never actually “disparaged Puerto Rico.”

He also seemed to suggest his client’s comments may have been a sign of the times.

“We live in interesting times,” he said. “We have a president of the United States who calls countries blank-holes.”

When Irizarry took the stand, she described being “very nervous” at times as Trybus taunted her, and of getting no help from a nearby Cook County Forest Preserve police officer.

“I never in a million years thought a flag could be a problem,” she said.

The defense called one witness, Greg Kawecki, the Cook County Forest Preserve detective who investigated the case. Goldman asked Kawecki what that investigation involved. Kawecki said he reviewed the police reports and watched the video but didn’t interview any witnesses.

Goldman, in his opening statement, had pointed out that the charges against Trybus were upgraded from misdemeanors to felonies only after the video went viral. Goldman asked Kawecki if any of the evidence in the case had changed in the interim.

“Not to my knowledge,” Kawecki said.

The defense rested, with Trybus choosing not to testify. Closing arguments in the case were expected Wednesday morning.