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Expert: Many questions remain about incident in which teen was pinned, punched during arrest in Oak Lawn

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OAK LAWN, Ill. (CBS) -- It has been 48 hours since Oak Lawn police initiated a traffic stop that led to the violent arrest of a 17-year-old boy.

A viral video of the incident led to protests from activists and the teen's relatives. But the story became more complicated as other angles of the incident emerged – which led police brass to say the officers acted appropriately after a threat of a gun was at play.

CBS 2's Chris Tye spoke Friday with an expert to highlight the key questions that will need to be answered in coming days. University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris said the standard tends to favor the police in these fast moving and dangerous situations.

But while the police chief has backed his officers, outsiders say there is a lot we still don't know.

Harris does know the questions the justice system will be asking as it relates to the videos showing Oak Lawn police beating 17-year-old Hadi Abuataleh during his recent arrest.

"That is the central question - what was the nature of the threat that the police faced when they chased this young man and brought him down?" Harris said. "Why was it necessary to use the degree of force that they did?"

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, police pulled over the car in which Abuatelah was riding at Southwest Highway and Austin Avenue. Police say they smelled burnt marijuana.

Abuatelah, wearing a white tank top, got out of the back driver side door with an accessory bag over his shoulder. As officers checked his pockets, he ran.

Police dashboard cameras showed Abuatelah making it a block and a half before police took him to the ground. Social media videos capture a series of blows to the suspect on the ground.

The blows led to a fractured back and severe internal bleeding.

Hadi Abuatelah, 17, lies in a bed at Advocate Christ Medical Center, after Oak Lawn police officers repeatedly punched him while he was pinned on the ground during an arrest. Dena Natour

Oak Lawn police say Abuatelah would not stop reaching for his accessory bag - even when they told him to stop. In the end, police said, it turned out the bag did contain a semi-automatic weapon.

Oak Lawn Police

"Once they feared that there was a weapon in there, that then turned into a deadly force incident," Oak Lawn police Chief Daniel Vittorio said at a news conference Thursday. "So had that offender drawn that weapon, he could have shot them. Were they supposed to wait for him to pull it out?"

But Harris pointed out, "There's nothing so far to tell us that the police knew what was in the bag until later."

Harris said there are major questions about use of force in this case.

"They must do it according to the legal standards and the information that they have in that moment," he said. "So you don't have to be correct in thinking there was a gun if it turns out there wasn't one. But you have to be reasonable in believing there could have been one. It's just as reasonable to think, since the stop was about burning marijuana smells, that that bag contained marijuana."

The officers involved have not been put on leave. Abuataleh remains hospitalized, and as of Thursday night, he had not been questioned or charged.

At the news conference Thursday, Chief Vittorio was asked if there was anything he would have done differently in the situation in terms of training. Vittorio said no.

But while the chief backs his officers' actions, those calling for justice - and outside experts - say major questions linger.

"We will have to see what the police officers say as to why they thought there was a threat that needed to be met with a fusillade of fists," Harris said.

One of the officers involved in the incident was treated and released for injuries at the hospital.

The Illinois State Police Zone 1 Public Integrity Task Force is investigating the incident at the request of the Cook County State's Attorney's office, state police announced Friday night.

We reached out to the family and the police department for comment Friday. They had none.

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