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.
According to CNN, the incident occurred in Park Ridge, Illinois, last month, when Chicago police sergeant Michael Vitellaro wrongly accused the teen of stealing his son’s bike. Vitellaro reportedly learned that the bicycle had been stolen at a library and later spotted outside a Starbucks. He then took his son to the location and found that the bike was propped up against a pillar. The officer, who has worked for the CPD since 2000, then “waited in his car to hopefully observe who had stolen the bicycle.”
After several minutes, Vitellaro saw the 14-year-old boy—identified as J.N.—riding his own bike before getting off to move the supposed stolen bike. The off-duty officer then approached the teen and began accusing him of theft. A bystander captured the incident on camera, showing Vitellaro putting the boy’s arms behind his back before pinning him face down on the ground. The officer proceeded to kneel on J.N.’s back as others attempted to pull him off. Vitellaro then called 911 for backup, and eventually released the boy.
Witnesses say J.N., who is Puerto Rican-American, arrived at the Starbucks after the bike had been placed on the sidewalk. His family says their son was simply trying to move the bicycle so he could get by. His parents and their attorney believe the incident was racially motivated.
“The off-duty officer used excessive force on a child and escalated the situation where this type of aggression was clearly not necessary,” attorney Bhavani K. Raveendran said in a statement. “The boy was not a threat, was not armed, had committed no crime. Furthermore, after the murder of George Floyd from prone restraint, the whole world knows how dangerous a knee in the back or neck can be …
“This is a clear cut case of racial profiling. The off-duty officer is white and [the] boy was the only person of color in a group of teenagers,” Raveendran continued. “Chicago police have a history of racial bias and they continue to racially profile people, even outside of Chicago, and that culture permeates officers’ lives.”
More than a month after the incident, Vitellaro was charged with felony official misconduct and aggravated battery. The Park Ridge Police confirmed he turned himself in on Thursday and was taken to a Cook County courthouse for a bond hearing.
“I am grateful to our partners at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for their assistance in bringing a resolution to this investigation,” Chief Frank Kaminski said in a statement. “I am extremely proud of my staff and their professionalism in conducting a thorough and complete investigation which they took seriously from day one. The Park Ridge Police Department has and will continue to honor their oath of office, continuing to serve our community with professionalism, dedication, pride, and respect.”
Vitellaro’s next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8.