Seventeen years before his drunken crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway led to the fiery deaths of two young men, Chicago Police Officer Joseph Frugoli got in a bar fight that ended with this declaration: “Nobody messes with the Frugolis!”
Frugoli allegedly punched two people at the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport in 1992, grabbed one by the throat, threw them on a pool table and hit them with pool cues. He also allegedly threw glasses and broke two bar stools.
The off-duty cop later admitted he’d been drinking but “was not intoxicated.” A sergeant would testify that she’d reached the same conclusion. But Frugoli was never given a field sobriety test or breathalyzer, records show. Frugoli got away with a five-day suspension.
None of that came to light until this week, well into a civil trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse brought by two families who contend Frugoli thought he could drink and drive with impunity. Their lawsuit revolves around Frugoli’s April 2009 crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway that killed Fausto Manzera, 21, and Andrew Cazares, 23.
It wasn’t until Monday that city attorneys turned over 116 pages of reports detailing Frugoli’s 1992 bar fight. And Tuesday, attorneys representing the families of Frugoli’s victims asked for sanctions against the city.
“This is highly damaging information,” U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall later said.
Kendall held off on calling a mistrial, though. She did so even as more documents surfaced in the hours following the request for sanctions. That paperwork included another previously undisclosed but “less damaging” citizen complaint against Frugoli, as well as a report from the April 2009 crash.
The judge chose instead to admit the newly discovered evidence into the trial and tell jurors they may consider whether the documents were intentionally withheld as part of the city’s alleged code of silence.
Frugoli joined CPD in 1990 and would go on to become a detective well before the crash that killed Manzera and Cazares. He later pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI before a Cook County judge sentenced him in 2012 to eight years in prison. Frugoli is not due out until April 2019.
His 1992 bar fight may never have come to light had it not been for Frugoli’s own testimony last week. Despite claims that Frugoli had never been disciplined by the Chicago Police Department — and therefore felt he could get away with drinking and driving — Frugoli insisted he had been suspended over the fight.
Kendall said that fight occurred around 2 a.m., while Frugoli was off-duty. She said at least eight patrol cars responded, that Frugoli ignored the instructions of one officer and fled, and once he was chased down denied he had been the aggressor.
Many of the reports written by officers who responded were “cookie cutter,” the judge said. And the charges filed against Frugoli were ultimately dropped “with no record of why.”
Lawyers for the city insisted last week they had no record of this incident. The judge ordered them to look into it, and they allegedly handed the file over early Monday afternoon. The city lawyers claimed it fell through the cracks during a transition to a new computer system, according to the lawyers for the families’ victims.
The city has repeatedly found itself in hot water for failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases. A spokesman for the city’s law department declined to comment on the Frugoli case Tuesday, citing the ongoing litigation.
But Michael Sorich, an attorney for the victims’ families, wrote that the incident “establishes the Code of Silence is alive and well in the Chicago Police Department and has been since the infancy of Frugoli’s employment as a police officer in 1992.”
All of this has come to light eight years after the Bridgeport native and son of a Chicago cop spent four or five hours drinking and got behind the wheel of a Lexus SUV on April 10, 2009.
Frugoli has testified he does not remember much of what happened that day. He said the gap in his memory begins after his SUV struck a stalled Dodge Intrepid containing Manzera and Cazares on the Dan Ryan.
“The last thing I remember is a loud bang,” Frugoli testified last week.
The Dodge burst into flames after the collision. But Frugoli said he doesn’t remember that. Nor does he remember his SUV rolling along the road or that he wandered away from the scene. He said his memories kick back in later, after he was taken to a hospital.
Frugoli’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit at the time of the crash, authorities said.