Oak Lawn Police Chief Dan Vittorio, accompanied by Division Chief Gerald Vetter on his right, speaks to the media last Thursday afternoon at the Oak Lawn Village Hall. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Oak Lawn Police Chief Dan Vittorio, accompanied by Division Chief Gerald Vetter on his right, speaks to the media last Thursday afternoon at the Oak Lawn Village Hall. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Oak Lawn police defend use of force against teen

Federal lawsuit filed against police department, individual officers

By Joe Boyle

The 17-year-old who was arrested by Oak Lawn police last week after a brutal encounter with officers after he ran away from a traffic stop was released from the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center Tuesday afternoon.

Hadi Abuatelah, of Palos Hills, left the detention center using a walker and was accompanied by his parents. He was greeted by supporters who gave him a round of applause.

Abuatelah said he was happy to be going home. The extent of his injuries was not known as of Tuesday afternoon.

dvn speaker photo 8 4

A man calls for justice during a rally last Thursday outside the Oak Lawn Municipal Center after a teen was arrested in the village. Members of the Arab American Action Network and other organizations said the 17-year-old was beaten by Oak Lawn police. Officers who made the arrest said the teen had a gun.

“Thank you for all the support,” Abuatelah told the crowd.

A federal lawsuit was filed by the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations and attorney Zadi Abdallah against the Oak Lawn Police Department and three unnamed officers on behalf of the Abuatelah family. The lawsuit alleges the officers who made the arrest deprived the teen of his rights because he is of Middle Eastern descent.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has postponed a detention hearing for three weeks as they go over the information about the incident.

Abuatelah became the source of controversy when a car he was a passenger in was pulled over at 5:30 p.m. July 27 in a parking lot in the 9500 block of Southwest Highway.

Officers stated that they could detect an odor of burnt cannabis emanating from the vehicle that had no front license plate. The driver got out and agreed to a pat down. Officers then asked Abuatelah, who was in the back seat, to exit the vehicle.

Police said Abuatelah appeared nervous and had an accessory bag draped over his shoulder. When requested by the officer to place his hands on the car, he took off running.

Abuatelah was apprehended by an assisting officer at 95th and McVicker and taken to the ground, Oak Lawn Police Chief Dan Vittorio said during a news conference last Thursday.

According to police, a struggle ensued and Abuatelah immediately grabbed his bag and tried to open it. Vittorio said Abuatelah was given verbal commands and he did not comply. A .25 caliber pistol was discovered in the bag and was loaded with three rounds of ammunition, Vittorio said.

“They (police) feared for their safety and he would not release the bag,” Vittorio said.

The Arab American Action Network than organized a protest that was held last Thursday outside the Oak Lawn Municipal Center. Abuatelah was a victim of racial profiling because he is of Middle Eastern descent, organizers said. The protesters also claimed that police used excessive force that resulted in him being treated for injuries at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Vittorio defended the three officers who arrested Abuatelah, stating that they were just doing their job. Police said Abuatelah also had a THC vape cartridge in his possession and that he admitted smoking it earlier.

dvn police photo 8 4

A large Oak Lawn police presence was on hand for the rally and protest organized by the Arab American Action Network last Thursday after an arrest of a 17-year-old the previous day. Protesters said the teen was the victim of excessive force. The police said the teen had a gun and officers making the arrest feared for their safety.

The protest was held after a video was posted on social media showing two of the officers punching Abuatelah after he was on the ground at 95th and McVicker near a gas station.

Abuatelah was released from Advocate Christ Medical Center on Monday and transported to the Oak Lawn police station. He was charged as a juvenile with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest, which are both felonies. He also faces misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and possession of cannabis by a passenger in a vehicle.

Vittorio was accompanied by Division Chief Gerald Vetter during the news conference last Thursday.

Vittorio and Vetter presented the police cam video showing the initial stop of the vehicle leading up to the arrest of Abuatelah. At the end of the video, one officer was seen punching the teen in the leg while another officer appeared to be striking him in the head.

The police chief was asked if the officers used excessive force and he said “no.” In response to another question, Vittorio said police were concerned when Abuatelah appeared to be trying to open his bag. The police chief said that it was necessary to pin down the subject and prevent him from opening his bag.

Vittorio said the three officers involved in the incident were not placed on leave. He added that they would have been justified in using more force.

The teen continued to reach for the bag until a third officer shocked him with a Taser, which Vittorio said stopped him from pulling out the weapon.

“Had the offender drawn the weapon, he could have shot him,” Vittorio said. “Were they supposed to wait for him to pull it out?

“What concerns me is a (17-year-old) running around with a gun,” Vittorio added.

Vittorio said one officer was hospitalized and was released the same night.

“The extreme, excessive, inhumane treatment by the Oak Lawn PD will not go unlooked, overlooked,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, national director of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “Those officers should be fired, they should be terminated and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The police chief was asked if there has been ongoing friction between police officers and members of the Arab community in Oak Lawn?

“I have no knowledge of that,” Vittorio said. “We have a very diverse community here.”

Members of the Arab American Action Network spoke at the rally last Thursday and called for justice while a large police presence was present to keep order. Some of the protesters were yelling at the police and some individuals had to be held back by associates.

“It’s unjust what they did to that child,” one man screamed.

However, other people at the rally called for peace and one woman pleaded with some of the protesters to not become violent.

Tensions rose at one point when one woman held up a sign in support of the police. She was led away by officers as an angry crowd pushed forward and yelled in the direction of the woman.

Oak Lawn police do not have body cameras. The video shown at the press conference was from the dashboard camera from the squad car.

Vittorio said that an internal investigation of the officers’ conduct is taking place.

“Let the investigation take its course,” Vittorio said.

At the request of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, the Illinois State Police Zone 1 Public Integrity Task Force is currently investigating the incident.

The Oak Lawn Village Board also released a statement late Saturday afternoon regarding the arrest. A portion of the statement read that, “The Oak Lawn Board of Trustees strongly supports members of our police department and are committed to protecting the lives and livelihoods of all who live, do business in, and visit Oak Lawn. We commend our officers’ decision to use less-than-lethal force to detain the armed offender.”

The statement also referred to the mass shootings in Highland Park on July 4 that resulted in seven deaths and that law and order is necessary to ensure public safety.

Board members also stated that “The Oak Lawn Police Department and our entire administration will fully cooperate with the ISP investigation and accommodate any of their needs and requests, and we will have no further comments about the matter until their investigation is complete.”

dvn protest photo 8 4

Over 100 people of all ages turned out for a protest last Thursday afternoon outside the Oak Lawn Municipal Center speaking out over what they believed was excessive force used against a 17-year-old in an arrest that took place the previous day in the village.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Zweig on August 5, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    This full story should be covered. The 17 yr old was unlicensed driving around in back seat of a tinted car with a loaded gun. Counter protesters were there to support OLPD. The kid would not let go of the bag at all no matter how many times he was being hit. No one is saying that. That same bag had a loaded weapon in it.

    Today is another protest along with counter protests. It’s time we save our streets one case at a time.

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