Oak Lawn police beat Hadi Abu Atelah during arrest, videos show


Police in a Chicago suburb repeatedly punched a subject teenager in the head after he fled a traffic stop Wednesday, leaving him hospitalized with internal bleeding, according to a family representative.

A bystander video, which has been shared widely on Facebook, begins after the teenager is on the ground and shows two officers throwing at least 10 punches at the teenager’s legs and face. An officer appears to press the teen’s head against the concrete as he punches him several times in the face.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, identified the boy as Hadi Abu Atelah, 17, a rising high school student.

Abu Atelah suffered a broken nose, internal bleeding from his forehead and brain cavity, and bruises all over his body, according to Rehab. He was in stable condition in a hospital Friday afternoon, Rehab said.

Oak Lawn, Ill., Police Chief Daniel Vittorio defended the officers’ actions, telling a news conference Thursday that “deadly force” was justified because the teenager was looking for a bag, in which police have said he later recovered a loaded pistol. Vittorio said officers had “reasonable suspicion” that Abu Atelah was armed, based on his movements during foot pursuit and arrest.

Police released dash cam footage on Thursday showing Abu Atelah running away from the car and the officers throwing punches during the struggle before deploying a stun gun. Oak Lawn Police do not carry body cameras.

The use of force is under internal investigation — as is protocol after any application of force — but officers are back to work, Vittorio said. An officer also injured went to the hospital, but Vittorio declined to give details of the officer’s injuries.

Rehab – whose organization is representing the family on the civil rights side of the case while another lawyer works on the criminal side – said he recognized police had the right to use force to subdue an uncooperative suspect, but that the force in this case was “undue and excessive”. He noted that Abu Atelah weighed 115 pounds.

“We think this is a classic case of excessive force, savage force, which was unnecessary,” Rehab said. “If they had just put handcuffs on his wrists once he was on the ground and had done the right thing in a professional manner, I don’t think we would even be here.”

Rehab said the family is calling for “appropriate disciplinary action” for the officers and a review of their training. The officers should be suspended until the investigation is complete, Rehab said.

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At Thursday’s press conference, where authorities released the dashcam footage, Vittorio said he would let the use of force investigation take its course, but he said avoided answering questions about whether anything in the video was about him. He said police plan to press charges against the teenager once he is discharged from hospital.

Vittorio said an officer stopped a car around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday that smelled of marijuana and didn’t have a front license plate. Officers searched the driver, who complied, but when they asked the teenager in the back seat to get out, he ‘appeared nervous and had a bag of accessories draped over his shoulder’, said Vittoria.

As the police began to search him, he ran off. After a brief foot chase, officers took him to the ground outside a McDonald’s restaurant, where he attempted to open the bag, prompting them to use “control tactics” to free his hands from the bag, Vittorio said. .

“They had a reasonable suspicion that he was armed with a weapon in that bag, and he was not complying and he was trying to open that bag,” Vittorio said. “They feared for their safety.”

Officers then “dunned him while driving” and took him into custody, Vittorio said, referring to deploying a stun gun without firing its projectiles. They recovered a semi-automatic bag gun loaded with three rounds, Vittorio said.

He said officers suspected the teenager had a weapon, based on how he grabbed the bag during the chase and scuffle, making it an “incident of deadly force”.

“If the assailant had pulled out that gun, he could have shot them,” Vittorio said. “Were they supposed to wait for him to release it?”

One of them, a field training officer, has worked in the department for 12 years, and the other has worked there for six years, according to Vittorio.

Division Chief Gerald Vetter, spokesman for the department, declined to answer further questions from The Washington Post on Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

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Rehab said the officers’ account that they had been threatened with the weapon “defies logic” and that they would have needed “extrasensory perception” to know Abu Atelah was armed.

“He wasn’t brandishing the gun. He didn’t arm it. He wasn’t brandishing it – they weren’t threatened,” he said. “This is not one of those cases where someone is running around with a gun in their hands.”

Rehab said police-Arab community relations were already in “urgent need of improvement” in Oak Lawn, where 7% of the population is of Arab descent, according to the Census Bureau.

“From what we hear from the local community, they don’t feel properly protected and respected by the police,” he said.

As police held their press conference on Thursday, Abu Atelah’s family and supporters gathered outside. His mother, Dena Natour, told CBS Chicago that the officers’ actions amounted to “beating him to death.”

“He has fractures all over his face, he has bruises, he is in the hospital at the moment with a neck brace,” Natour said. “Why did the police, who weighs over 300 pounds, attack my son who weighs only 115 pounds? Why did they do what they did? It is not necessary, it is not necessary and it is not acceptable.

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