Hadi Abuatelah

Hadi Abuatelah

Oak Lawn police officer indicted for last summer’s beating of teen

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Oak Lawn Police Chief Dan Vittorio, accompanied by Division Chief Gerald Vetter on his right, speaks to the media last summer to defend the actions of Oak Lawn police officers filmed beating Hadi Abuatelah during an arrest. (Photo by Joe Boyle)

By Joe Boyle

An Oak Lawn police officer involved in a brutal confrontation and later the arrest of a 17-year-old last summer was indicted Tuesday by a Cook County grand jury.

Officer Patrick O’Connell was indicted on counts of aggravated battery and official misconduct in connection with the July 27 arrest of Hadi Abuatelah.

Zaid Abdallah, an attorney for Abuatelah, said the arrest was “a move in the right direction.” However, the attorney added that he was disappointed that the other two officers involved in the incident were not charged.

Oak Lawn Police Chief Dan Vittorio had defended the three officers who arrested Abuatelah after they pulled over the vehicle he was riding in. Vittorio said during a news conference after the incident that Abuatelah had a gun in his accessory bag that was draped across his shoulder.

But the Arab American Action Network, which organized a protest near the Oak Lawn police station after the arrest, said that Abuatelah was actually a victim of racial profiling because he is of Middle Eastern descent.

A representative of the Oak Lawn Police Department did not comment on the indictment on Tuesday.

When reached later Tuesday night, Oak Lawn Mayor Terry Vorderer also had no comment.

Vittorio said at the news conference last summer that the officers were on patrol that day and observed an occupied vehicle in the 9500 block of South Austin. The officers said they could detect an odor of burnt cannabis emanating from the vehicle. They pulled over the vehicle in a parking lot in the 9500 block of Southwest Highway.

According to Vittorio, the driver complied to a pat down but when Abuatelah was asked to exit the vehicle, he ran away and was later tackled by an officer at 95th and McVicker.

According to police, a struggle ensued and Abuatelah immediately grabbed his bag and tried to open it. Vittorio said that the teen was given verbal commands and he did not comply.

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

The teen was eventually taken into custody and a 25mm caliber pistol loaded with three rounds of ammunition was discovered in his bag, Vittorio said.

Oak Lawn police provided dashcam video of the incident. A bystander also filmed the confrontation. In the video provided by the bystander, the officers were holding Abuatelah on the ground, punching him in the head and the legs. After the video went viral, Vittorio defended the action of the officers, which he said was in line with their training.

The teen continued to reach for the bag, Vittorio said, until one of the officers shocked him with a Taser.

“Had the offender drawn the weapon, he could have shot him,” Vittorio said at the news conference. “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.

According to attorneys for Abuatelah, he spent six days in a hospital for fractures to his face and pelvis, along with swelling to his brain.

Abuatelah’s family and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Chicago have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Oak Lawn officers and the village.

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