A Chicago police sergeant who was off-duty has been charged after he was caught on video pinning down a 14-year-old boy of Puerto Rican descent in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge.
The police sergeant—who is White—claimed the teen was stealing his son's bike.
The Chicago Sun Times reported Sergeant Michael Vitellaro is facing felony charges of official misconduct and aggravated battery tied to the July 1, 2022 incident according to Park Ridge police.
The teen was sitting on his bike with some friends outside a Starbucks in Park Ridge before the assault. According to witness statements, the teen attempted to move Vitellaro's son's bike out of their way.
Vitellaro approached the boy and forced him to the pavement while pulling his arms behind his back before kneeling on him.
The teen's family released video footage of the aftermath, believing the incident to be racially motivated. The parents said their son is a straight A student and a 3 sport athlete who is active in his church.
The boy assaulted by Vitellaro was the only BIPOC in the group of teens.
The boy's parents, Angel and Nicole Nieves, issued a statement saying the charges against Vitellaro “are an accurate reflection of what we all saw on the video: An abuse of power, not just without probable cause but with zero cause.“
The statement continued:
"There is absolutely no room in our community for this type of unnecessary aggression against our children and we are grateful for today’s progress.”
At Thursday's court hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary McDonnell said the incident began when Vitellaro was informed his 13-year-old son's bike was stolen from the Park Ridge Public Library around 5:15 p.m on July 1.
When Vitellaro learned the stolen bike was spotted near a Starbucks at 100 S. Northwest Highway, he went to the location hoping to find the culprit. When Vitellaro saw Nieves' son touch the bike belonging to his son, Vitellaro subsequently approached him and put the boy in an “arm bar” and placed a knee on his back.
You can watch a clip of the incident here:
WARNING: violence against a minor
Vitellaro could be heard saying:
"He’s taking my son’s bike."
The boy's friends replied:
"No, he's not."
They tried to get their friend away from Vitellaro.
When Vitellaro called 911, he said he was an off-duty police officer and needed help.
When an adult female bystander asked why Vitellaro was on top of the boy, he insisted the teen had stolen his son's bike.
Vitellaro eventually took his knee off the boy, and his friends pulled him up. Crying and visibly upset, the boy walked away while Vitellaro followed him around while the boy asked him to stop.
Vitellaro told responding Park Ridge police officers the 14-year-old was a bike thief, but after reviewing Starbucks' surveillance footage, it clearly showed the bike was already at the coffee shop before the teen and his friends even arrived.
You can watch an NBC News report of the incident here:
The next day, Vitellaro filed Chicago police reports labeling the incident as an “off-duty arrest" and describing the teen as the "offender" who was not complying with orders.
A Chicago police spokesperson said Vitellaro was relieved of his duties on Wednesday.
The police department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability are both investigating his actions.
The boy's mother, Nicole Nieves, told NBC News:
"This is a situation where he faced something egregious and tragic, and he did happen to be the only Brown boy there."
"So that's an important factor of how we are processing this as a family."
The family's attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said at Thursday's news conference the Nieves have called for Vitellaro’s dismissal and they are preparing to file a civil lawsuit in the future.
Unsure of how the incident had impacted her son, the mother told WMAQ:
“I would say this is going to have a long-term effect on him."
"But so far, he’s showing some good signs of being able to process and move forward.”
Vitellaro's next court date is set for September 8.