Update 10/21/19: Timothy Trybus was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service. See full story.
It was supposed to be a joyous celebration for the 24-year-old. Instead, it became a birthday she will always remember for all the wrong reasons.
Anairis “Mia” Irizarry planned to celebrate herself and her heritage — days later and a few miles south Humboldt Park would be holding its annual Puerto Rican People’s Parade. So she put on her birthday-fit: a Puerto Rican flag jersey and headed to the grove she had reserved at the Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve.
“I wasn’t attending (the parade) but wanted to show my pride,” Irizarry testified last week in the trial against the man accused of two counts of felony hate crime for verbally berating her at the forest preserve that day. “I would never have thought in a million years a flag would be a problem.”
More than 15 months later, Irizarry pointed across Courtroom 207 in Skokie Courthouse at Timothy Trybus identifying him as the man whose racist barrage went viral after she livestreamed what was supposed to be her birthday celebration.
Last week, his bond was revoked, an unusual outcome for a white man charged with a hate crime in Cook County. Out of the 36 white defendants found guilty of a hate crime in Cook County during the last ten years, only 12 have been sentenced to prison, according to a Reporter analysis of publicly available data from the Cook County data portal.
Our analysis shows that in 60% of Cook County hate crime cases with a white defendant, the defendant was sentenced to probation. On the other hand, only 22% of black defendants in hate crime cases were given probation — the rest were sentenced to prison.
Big Brother mode
Calling Irizarry and Nathan Arroyo cousins would be simplifying the matter. They grew up together. They even slept in the same room in high school. Several times, under oath, Arroyo referred to Irizarry as his sister. She referred to him as her brother. But about eight years ago, he moved to Spokane, Washington for college, rarely returning home.
“I came as a surprise visit for my little cousin for her birthday,” he said. “Just to celebrate her. I’ve missed several birthdays in the past, living apart from her.”
The two drove from their childhood home together to the forest preserve, 6350 W. Devon Ave., around 1:30 p.m. on June 14, 2018. They parked their car and hauled a large toy chest they were using as a cooler down the steep stairs to the grove she had rented. Around the pavilion, they found two men and a woman hanging out, according to statements they both made in court.
Arroyo told Irizarry to tell the group that she had a permit, thinking nothing of it as he headed back up the steep hill to the parking lot to gather more party supplies. As he made his way back to the hill with the supplies, he heard a man screaming. While he didn’t assume his cousin was in trouble, he became more suspicious as the yelling grew more intense and he couldn’t see his cousin from atop the hill, he said.
As he approached the top of the stairs, things became clearer. Trybus was flailing his arms, punching the air and “getting big” all as Irizarry retreated, he testified.
“She was continually taking steps back, and that’s how I knew it was directed at Mia because I was seeing how Mia was reacting with her body,” Arroyo testified. “It seemed like the defendant couldn’t take his gaze off of her.”
The situation seemed to be escalating very quickly and looked like it might turn violent, he testified. That sent him into “Big Brother mode,” though he admitted he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do because there was already a forest preserve officer present. Arroyo dropped most of the items he was carrying at the top of the hill, and slid in between his cousin and her attacker. Trybus was almost touching her when Arroyo batted his hand away, he said.
“That’s a big brother trying to make sure his little sister isn’t going to be struck by some random guy,” he testified in court. “I’ve grown up with all different types of situations like this. So, yeah, I was just trying to protect Mia at that time.”
On cross examination, Trybus’ lawyer would harp on Arroyo and Irizzary’s interactions with the officer. If they were in fear of being attacked, why didn’t they just say the phrase, ‘Officer, I need help?’
“There was a lack of interaction,” he said. “I really wanted to be respectful, but sometimes I can’t assume a positive intent on the police officer every single time … I’m not saying I’m making accusations towards the police officer, but it seems like he was blatantly ignoring it because he was witnessing.”
After the incident, the officer, Patrick Conner, who idles in the background of the video, quit. He wasn’t called to testify in the trial and his name was never directly mentioned.
Following opening statements, Irizarry is the first witness called to testify. Over and over, she displayed the same calm demeanor from the now famous video. But in court, her face is in clear view, accented by perfectly-laid baby hairs with her black hair pulled back tightly.
Her arm is as straight as a park bench as she points her finger across the courtroom identifying Trybus as the man in the video. A few tears fall from her dark brown eyes, as the state’s attorney plays a portion of it.
It is, perhaps, the third time she’s seen the video. The first time was in preparation for the trial, she testified.
“It’s not something pleasant I like to look at. I rather not watch it, if I didn’t have to,” the soft-spoken veterinary technician testified.
The day of the incident, Irizarry planned to have a rather tame birthday celebration with about 20 close friends and family at the grove and her 4-month-old pup Starfire. After setting down the toy chest cooler, Irizarry approached the trio and told them she had rented the area.
Initially, the exchange wasn’t very unsettling. The woman asked if she had a permit, Irizarry told her she did and the group began to pack up, she said.
Then, Trybus asked her a peculiar question about her shirt: was it the Texas flag? Nope, she replied. Then, he asked again. It’s the Puerto Rican flag, she told him.
That’s when his demeanor changed, she testified.
“His tone shifted. He seemed a little bit more aggressive and the overall volume of his voice increased and he proceeded to step on the seating of the table. And pointing at me and telling me I shouldn’t be wearing it,” she said in court. ”
She didn’t know how long her cousin had been gone or when he’d be back. She was beginning to get nervous, concerned at how quickly Dr. Jekyll had become Mr. Hyde. She instinctively began to livestream the interaction on Facebook, where she knew expected party guests would be watching.
“It’s just one of the fears of being a woman of color, just not knowing — it’s still a he said, she said,” Irizarry said.
In the courtroom, she pantomimed holding the phone just below her chin to record. From that angle, friends and family watched a belligerent old man yell at her.
“You’re not going to change us … the world is not going to change the United States of America,” he slurred. He paced. He got closer and closer. “Are you educated?” he asked. “Are you a citizen?”
She backed away, creating space, but her back was against the bushes lining the steep hill. She didn’t run away. After all, there was an officer right there, she testified.
“I didn’t run because I did not want my back facing him at any point. I did not feel safe if I wasn’t looking at him to see what he was doing, and, again, he was close, so close to me. I don’t know if yelling would have set him off more or caused any additional issues,” Irizarry said.
Meanwhile, her friends and family not only watched live, they interacted, commenting on the video. When she finally got some space, she displays her T-shirt.
Soon, Arroyo enters the frame toting a case of juice boxes and sliding between the two.
“[Trybus] was trying to make me feel small, trying to be threatening,” she testified.
Off-camera, a man yells, “Baby girl, you are an American!”
“I know I am,” she responds.
The ‘dog whistle’ defense
“Ir-Ir-Ireee-zaree,” David Goldman says, struggling to pronounce her name as he begins his cross-examination.
She corrects him with a polite smile. He apologizes, but won’t get close to pronouncing it correctly for the next two days.
“Was [June 14th] your actual birthday?” he asked. Yes, she responded. “And were you also aware that it was Flag Day?”
“I like to say two legends were born that day,” responds the woman, who has had her birthday on Flag Day for 25 years.
“Quite a difference in age,” Goldman responded with a chuckle.
Throughout the trial, Goldman would harp on patriotism, his client’s extreme inebriation and public perception of the viral video.
“It’s a holiday. People display their flags. And even though Puerto Rico is part of the United States, it wasn’t the United States’ flag as Trybus seemed to want to see,” Goldman told the jury during his opening statement. “We live in interesting times. We have a president of the United States who calls countries blank holes where people live.”
Originally, Trybus was charged with misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but nearly a month later, those charges were upgraded to felony hate crimes. In the meantime, the video went viral, he said.
Irizzary said she only streamed the incident live and didn’t know it landed on multiple social media platforms garnering thousands of views.
“I don’t know who or what shared it to cause that, but it didn’t turn into what it did until about a month after I had posted the video,” she said.
Nearly a month after the incident, Detective Greg Kawecki, a six-year veteran at the Cook County Forest Preserve, was asked to further investigate the incident.
During the investigation, he did not interview any witnesses. Instead, he relied on the video and the previous reports, which also did not include interviews of any witnesses. Following the investigation, Trybus was rearrested and charged with hate crimes, Kawecki testified.
Trybus did not testify during the two-day trial. He’s previously been charged with domestic battery multiple times, simple assault, violating a protection order, public alcohol consumption and violating a protection order, according to court records.
The 64-year-old man took off his glasses, slumped into his chair and wept as he was found guilty of two counts of felony hate crimes by what appeared to be an all-white jury. His bond revoked, he was ushered out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
“That wasn’t some low-budget movie. It was a real life horror film for Mia Irizarry. This defendant was the screenwriter, director and actor in this real life horror. And you should give him credit for each and every moment,” Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Kanter said in her closing argument.
The average prison sentence for a white defendant found guilty of a hate crime in Cook County is 22 months, analysis of the last 10 years of publicly available data shows. For black defendants, it is about 33 months.
Trybus will be sentenced later this month.