CHICAGO (CBS) — A 17-year-old boy has filed a federal lawsuit against Oak Lawn police, after officers repeatedly punched him while he was pinned to the ground during an arrest last week.
Hadi Abuatelah was hospitalized with internal bleeding in his brain, a fractured pelvis, broken nose, lacerations, and bruises after the violent arrest on July 27, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Monday.
The lawsuit claims three unnamed Oak Lawn police officers of “extreme and outrageous conduct,” by repeatedly punching Abuatelah in the body, head, and face, after he’d already been tackled and pinned to the ground.
According to the lawsuit, Abuatelah was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over in Oak Lawn on the afternoon of July 27, when police attempted an illegal search of the teen.
The lawsuit acknowledges Abuatelah ran away from police, but says an officer tackled him and pinned him to the ground before that officer and two others began beating him without justification after the first officer had already subdued him. During the beating, one of the officers shocked him with a stun gun, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accuses Oak Lawn Police of “constructing a false version of events to cover up their conduct” by releasing edited dashboard camera footage of the arrest to justify the beating.
The day after the arrest, Oak Lawn police held a news conferenceshowing Abuatelah fleeing from the traffic stop — leading to the chase. Police do not wear body cameras in Oak Lawn.
Oak Lawn police Chief Daniel Vittorio said an officer pulled over the car in which Abuatelah was riding near Southwest Highway and Austin Avenue. Police said they smelled burnt marijuana.
The driver complied during the traffic stop, but police said Abuatelah got out of the car and took off running, Vittorio said.
“He appeared to be nervous and had an accessory bag draped over his shoulder,” Vittorio said.
Police said the bag is key, because as officers chased the teen to the intersection of 95th Street and McVicker Avenue, dashcam video shows police tackle the teen – and officers claim that Abuatelah kept reaching for the bag.
Police said Abuatelah “refused to listen to verbal commands which resulted in a physical confrontation with two officers.”
After he was captured, Abuatelah tried to take control of the bag during the incident, police said.
Vittorio also mentioned that the officers feared Abuatelah was reaching for a weapon, and used control tactics to release the teen’s hands.
He didn’t stop resisting arrest until a stun gun was used, according to Chief Vittorio.
“Once they feared that there was a weapon in there, that then turned into a deadly force incident,” Vittorio said. “So had that offender drawn that weapon, he could have shot them. Were they supposed to wait for him to pull it out?”
Officers found a Raven Arms P25.25 caliber gun in the bag loaded with three rounds of ammunition, Vittorio said.
But Harris pointed out, “There’s nothing so far to tell us that the police knew what was in the bag until later.”
Harris said there are major questions about use of force in this case.
“They must do it according to the legal standards and the information that they have in that moment,” he said. “So you don’t have to be correct in thinking there was a gun if it turns out there wasn’t one. But you have to be reasonable in believing there could have been one. It’s just as reasonable to think, since the stop was about burning marijuana smells, that that bag contained marijuana.”
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, has said, regardless of the reason for chasing and arresting Abuatelah, the boy was on the ground, helpless, and not resisting when officers began punching him, even though he posed no threat to them. He said, although Abuatelah is expected to recover from his injuries, it’s only a “stroke of luck” that he didn’t suffer more serious injuries.
“The way that he was pounded and punched, this could have resulted in a permanent brain injury that changed the quality of life,” he said last week. “Regardless of what he was accused of, we have a system in this country. You can subdue the suspect, you can arrest the suspect, handcuff them, proceed to ask them questions. The police department said that there was a gun found. They did not allege that this gun was brandished, that it was threatening them at any point.”
Rehab also said the family believes if there was a gun found during the arrest, it was found in a bag after Abuatelah was in custody.
A legal expert spoke to CBS 2 last week about
University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris said the standard tends to favor the police in these fast moving and dangerous situations.
But while the police chief has backed his officers, outsiders say there is a lot we still don’t know.
Harris does know the questions the justice system will be asking as it relates to the videos showing Oak Lawn police beating 17-year-old Hadi Abuataleh during his recent arrest.
“That is the central question – what was the nature of the threat that the police faced when they chased this young man and brought him down?” Harris said. “Why was it necessary to use the degree of force that they did?”
Abuatelah’s attorney, Zaid Abdallah, said the officers who beat him should be suspended, pending an investigation into the beating, and ultimately should be fired.
“This is not policing activity. This is a disgusting act of hate and malice,” he said. “You could see, clearly, minutes pass as the officers have my client subdued; both of them, well over 200 pounds, on top of my client before punches to his head, slamming his head off the pavement. Punches to his body, crushing his bones. This was not a situation where they were trying to subdue a suspect. This was a situation that involved malice and hate from these officers.”
Abdallah also disputed Oak Lawn Police Department’s assertion that one of the officers involved had to go to the hospital.
“If he went to the hospital, he went to the hospital to have his knuckles checked from breaking them on my client’s head,” he said.
The Illinois State Police Zone 1 Public Integrity Task Force is investigating the incident at the request of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, state police announced Friday night.
Charges are pending against Abuatelah.