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Oak Lawn trustees back police, complain about threats from protesters

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By Joe Boyle

Oak Lawn officials spoke out in unison on Tuesday night, proclaiming their support for the village’s police department.

Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) served as mayor pro tempore because Mayor Terry Vorderer was unable to attend the village board meeting. Olejniczak began the meeting by requesting a moment of silence in memory of Chicago Police Officer Andres Mauricio Vasquez Lasso, who was shot and killed as he responded to a domestic violence incident on March 1.

“May he always be remembered for the job that he did,” Olejniczak said.

Board members have refrained from speaking publicly about the incident that occurred last July 27 in which Oak Lawn police officers pulled over a vehicle because they said the smell of marijuana came from the car.

The driver complied to a pat down but a passenger in the back seat, who had an accessory bag draped across his shoulder, exited the vehicle but then ran away. The officers minutes later wrestled Hadi Abuatelah, 17, to the ground at 95th and McVicker.

The police had dash-cam video of the incident and a citizen also took video. One of the officers, Patrick O’Donnell, 32, was indicted for two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of official misconduct. O’Donnell is accused of punching Abuatelah at least 10 times in the head, according to court documents.

O’Donnell pled not guilty and was ordered to pay a $75,000 I-Bond in Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on March 1, ironically on the same day that Vasquez Lasso was killed. O’Donnell was released on his own recognizance.

Protesters from various organizations, including the Arab American Action Network, have held rallies outside Village Hall calling for O’Donnell to be fired. They also demand that the two other officers be charged and fired.

The protesters claim the officers focused on Abuatelah because he is of Arab descent. Oak Lawn Police Chief Daniel Vittorio denied that, stating that the police were in fear of their lives because Abuatelah had a gun in his accessory bag.

Groups have continued to protest and have been attending several police and fire commission board meetings. The trustees said that at a previous meeting, protesters were yelling and screaming at board members.

“I want to thank the police department,” Olejniczak said. “This is not a glorious job. It is very difficult.”

Olejniczak then shared an email that was directed to Vittorio from a mother of a woman whose daughter was addicted to heroin and was arrested by Oak Lawn Officer Bob Carroll.

The mother was initially upset with Carroll for arresting her daughter. However, years later she was thankful that Carroll did make that arrest. The daughter wrote to Vittorio and said it was due to Carroll that her life turned around.

“It was because of him that I’m alive today,” the daughter wrote about Carroll’s actions.

“This is a good story,” Olejniczak said. “Officer Vasquez is a bad story. Officer Carroll, thank you.”

Olejniczak said in reference to the recent police and fire commission meeting, that people have a right to protest.

“The village will allow people to speak their minds,” Olejniczak said. “But they don’t have the right to threaten or abuse people.”

Olejniczak pointed out that after that meeting, he and Village Manager Tom Phelan have been threatened.

“I had to walk through protesters, some of them young girls, who were shouting at me, calling me a devil and a racist,” Phelan said. “I hope they don’t mean it and that they learned this from their parents. You can’t threaten people. You should not spew vulgarities.”

Phelan said that some people were visibly shaken as they left the meeting. Some elderly people were in tears, he said.

The village manager said that usually that the police and fire commission meetings are sparsely attended and quite calm. But that has not been the case recently, he added.

However, he said the last commission meeting was much better. Phelan added that he and the rest of the village board will not be intimidated.

Alleviate flooding in District 6

An agreement has been reached through the village, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and School District 218 to alleviate flooding in District 6. This includes the athletic fields for School District 218.

Trustee Ralph Soch (6th) was delighted with the agreement that he said will not only keep these fields in good shape, but provide relief for homeowners.

Olejniczak said that when the village was first developed, there were no plans to curb flooding. But with the assistance and funding by the MWRD this has become possible for District 218.

“This will not only alleviate flooding in the 6th District but the 5th and 4th districts, too,” Phelan said. “District 218 recognized the importance to the community. A lot of people had their hands in this.”

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