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

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

A video from a bystander, which has been shared widely on Facebook, begins after the teenager is on the ground and shows two officers throw at least 10 punches at the teenager’s legs and face. One officer appears to press the teen’s head into the concrete as he punches his face several times.

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 senior.

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

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

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

The use of force is being investigated internally — as is protocol after any application of force — but the officers are back at work, Vittorio said. An officer who was injured also went to a hospital, but Vittorio declined to elaborate on the officer’s injuries.

Rehab — whose organization is representing the family in the civil rights component of the case while another attorney is working the criminal aspect — said he recognizes that police have a 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 weighs 115 pounds.

“We believe this is a classic case of excessive force, savage force, that was unnecessary,” Rehab said. “If they had just simply put handcuffs on his wrists once he was on the ground and proceeded as they should professionally, I don’t think we’d even be here.”

Rehab said the family is calling for “appropriate disciplinary measures” 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 the Thursday news conference where authorities released the dash cam footage, Vittorio said he would allow the use-of-force investigation to run its course, but he avoided answering questions about whether anything in the video concerned him. He said police plan to file charges against the teenager once he is released from the hospital.

Vittorio said an officer pulled over a car about 5:30 pm Wednesday that smelled of marijuana and did not have a front license plate. Officers searched the driver, who complied, but when they asked the teenager in the rear seat to step out, he “appeared to be nervous and had an accessory bag draped over his shoulder,” Vittorio said.

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

“They had 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 were in fear of their safety.”

Officers then “drive-stunned” him and took him into custody, Vittorio said, referring to deploying a stun gun without firing its projectiles. They recovered a semiautomatic pistol from the bag that was loaded with three rounds, Vittorio said.

He said the officers suspected that the teenager had a weapon, based on how he reached for the bag during the chase and scuffle, which turned it into a “deadly force incident.”

“Had the offender drawn that weapon, he could have shot them,” Vittorio said. “Were they supposed to wait for him to pull it out?”

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

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

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Rehab said that the officers’ account that they were threatened by the gun “defies logic” and that they would have needed “extrasensory perception” to know Abu Atelah was armed.

“He wasn’t brandishing the gun. He was not weaponizing it. He was not wielding it — they were under no threat,” he said. “This is not one of those cases where someone is running with a gun in his hands.”

Rehab said relations between the police and the Arab community are already “in dire need of improvement” in Oak Lawn, where 7 percent 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.

While police held their news conference Thursday, Abu Atelah’s family and supporters rallied 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’s bruised, he’s in the hospital right now with a neck brace,” Natour said. “Why did the police, over 300 pounds, attack my son that’s only 115 pounds? Why did they do what they did? It’s not called for, it’s not necessary, and not acceptable.”

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