PARK RIDGE, Ill. - A Chicago police sergeant has been charged with aggravated battery for allegedly kneeling on the back of a 14-year-old boy he thought was stealing his son’s bicycle outside a Park Ridge Starbucks last month.
Sgt. Michael Vitellaro, 49, faces felony counts of official misconduct and aggravated battery in connection with the July 1 incident, according to the Park Ridge police. He turned himself into Park Ridge police on Thursday.
The teen’s family released video of the confrontation days afterward and questioned whether it was racially motivated. The boy is of Puerto Rican descent and Vitellaro is white.
The parents, Angel and Nicole Nieves, said the charges "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.
"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," they said in a statement.
During a court hearing Thursday, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary McDonnell said the sergeant was informed around 5:15 p.m. on July 1 that his 13-year-old son’s bicycle had been stolen from the Park Ridge Public Library and had been spotted near the Starbucks at 100 S. Northwest Highway.
When Vitellaro arrived, he waited around hoping to catch the person who stole the bike, McDonnell said. Nieves’ son was sitting on his own bike nearby with a group of his friends.
When the boy touched the bike belonging to Vitellaro’s son, Vitellaro approached him, grabbed his forearm and pushed him to the ground, McDonnell said. Vitellaro then put the boy in an "arm bar" and placed a knee on his back.
The video shared by the family shows there boy’s friends surrounding Vitellaro and yelling at him to get off.
"He’s taking my son’s bike," Vitellaro is heard saying.
The friends yell back, "No, he’s not," as they help pull the boy from the ground.
McDonnell noted that the boy asked Vitellaro repeatedly to let him go. During that time, Vitellaro called 911 and told the dispatcher he was a cop, McDonnell said.
When a bystander asked Vitellaro why he was on top of the boy, he continued to insist the teen had stolen his son’s bike, McDonnell said. After allowing the boy to stand up, Vitellaro followed him as he walked away crying and pleaded with the sergeant to "get away from him."
When officers from Park Ridge arrived, Vitellaro pointed out the boy and identified him as a bike thief, McDonnell said. But video surveillance apparently shows the boy didn’t take the bike, which was already outside the Starbucks when he arrived.
The following day, Vitellaro filed Chicago police reports and labeled the incident as an "off-duty arrest." He described the teen as the "offender" and claimed the boy pulled away and didn’t respond to directions.
Vitellaro was relieved of his police powers on Wednesday, a Chicago police spokesperson said. The police department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability are both investigating his actions.
Vitellaro’s attorney, James McKay, said the sergeant’s son has a rare blood disorder and had his bike swiped when he wasn’t looking. McKay said Vitellaro saw Nieves’ son hop onto the bike, leading him to believe the teen was the person who stole it.
Vitellaro used his police training to detain the teen, according to McKay, who said his client called 911 and cooperated with police throughout the investigation. McKay claimed Vitellaro "gently" placed his knee on the boy’s back, noting that the teen refused medical attention.
McKay described his client as a "dedicated public servant" and longtime Chicagoan who earned a master’s degree and volunteers at Ebinger Elementary School in Edison Park.
Judge Anthony Calabrese ordered Vitellaro released on a $25,000 recognizance bond, meaning he doesn’t have to post any money to get out. His next court date was set for Sept. 8.
During a news conference later Thursday, the Nieves’ attorney, Antonio Romanucci, called for Vitellaro’s dismissal and said the family is preparing to file a lawsuit in the "very near future."
Angel Nieves said his son was excited to return to school and start playing football, though it’s unclear how the incident has impacted him.
"I would say this is going to have a long-term effect on him," Angel Nieves said. "But so far, he’s showing some good signs of being able to process and move forward."