Mia Irizarry testified Tuesday that she feared for her safety at a Cook County forest preserve last year when a man began to criticize her because she was wearing a shirt emblazoned with a design of the Puerto Rican flag.
The testimony from Irizarry, 25, came on the opening day of the trial of Timothy Trybus, 63, of Des Plaines, at the Cook County courthouse in Skokie.
Trybus is charged with two counts of hate crime in the incident, which was captured by Irizarry on a cellphone video that went viral.
“I was very nervous and a little concerned for my safety,” Irizarry testified. “He was trying to make me feel small and scared.
“I would never have thought in a million years a flag would be a problem” she added.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that Trybus on June 14, 2018, turned a picnic area at the Caldwell Woods on Chicago’s Far Northwest Side into a “place of hate.”
“He unloaded a barrage of hate speech,” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon Kanter told jurors.
Trybus never touched Irizarry, but because his verbal barrage and aggressive actions were motivated by the fact the woman was wearing a shirt with the Puerto Rican flag on it, he committed a hate crime, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney David Goldman on Tuesday said his client was highly intoxicated at the time, that he never disparaged Puerto Rico and that prosecutors would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trybus’ actions amounted to a hate crime.
He also said Trybus was originally charged with misdemeanor assault but the charges were upgraded to felony hate crime after a video of the incident shot by Irizarry on her phone and posted to Facebook went viral.
Irizarry said she had reserved the picnic area for her birthday, and informed Trybus and two others of that when she arrived and they were there. She said Trybus commented on her shirt and initially asked if the flag was the Texas state flag.
When Irizarry said it was the Puerto Rican flag, “his demeanor changed” and he became aggressive and angry.
“He was trying to close in on me,” she said. “He was asserting himself into my space. I was very scared.”
The cellphone video went viral, not just because of the Trybus’ harangue but also because a Cook County Forest Preserve District police officer stood by and watched Trybus shout at the woman, ignoring her repeated requests that he intervene. The officer later resigned.
The video shows Trybus telling her, “You should not be wearing that in the United States of America.”
He then moves closer asking: “Are you a citizen? Are you a United States citizen?”
When the woman replies that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, Trybus comes closer, and she asks the forest preserve officer to help.
“I am renting this area, and he’s harassing me about the shirt that I’m wearing,” she says.
The trial continued into Tuesday afternoon.