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Hadi Abuatelah, teen beaten by Oak Lawn police, now faces felony charges

Teen charged with felonies, sues Village of Oak Lawn over violent arrest where he was punched
Teen charged with felonies, sues Village of Oak Lawn over violent arrest where he was punched 02:52

OAK LAWN, Ill. (CBS) -- A 17-year-old boy has been charged with multiple felonies after officers repeatedly punched him while he was pinned to the ground during an arrest last week, in which police said they were concerned he was reaching for a gun.

The teen, Hadi Abuatelah, has also filed a federal lawsuit against Oak Lawn police.

Abuatelah was brought straight to the Oak Lawn Police Department after spending four days in the hospital. He has been charged as a juvenile with one count of felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest, and also with two counts of misdemeanor resisting arrest and possession of cannabis by a passenger in a motor vehicle.

He was taken to the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center for a detention hearing, police said.

Abuatelah was hospitalized with internal bleeding in his brain, a fractured pelvis, broken nose, lacerations, and bruises after the violent arrest on July 27, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Monday.

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

The lawsuit claims three unnamed Oak Lawn police officers of "extreme and outrageous conduct," by repeatedly punching Abuatelah in the body, head, and face, after he'd already been tackled and pinned to the ground.

According to the lawsuit, Abuatelah was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over in Oak Lawn on the afternoon of July 27, when police attempted an illegal search of the teen.

The lawsuit acknowledges Abuatelah ran away from police, but says an officer tackled him and pinned him to the ground before that officer and two others began beating him without justification after the first officer had already subdued him. During the beating, one of the officers shocked him with a stun gun, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also accuses Oak Lawn Police of "constructing a false version of events to cover up their conduct" by releasing edited dashboard camera footage of the arrest to justify the beating.

Abuatelah's family and supporters gathered outside the police station Monday evening. They were furious to learn Abuatelah was handcuffed the entire time he was in the hospital.

The day after the arrest, Oak Lawn police held a news conference where they released dashcam video showing Abuatelah fleeing from the traffic stop -- leading to the chase. Police do not wear body cameras in Oak Lawn.

Oak Lawn police Chief Daniel Vittorio said an officer pulled over the car in which Abuatelah was riding near Southwest Highway and Austin Avenue. Police said they smelled burnt marijuana.

The driver complied during the traffic stop, but police said Abuatelah got out of the car and took off running, Vittorio said.

"He appeared to be nervous and had an accessory bag draped over his shoulder," Vittorio said.

Police said the bag is key, because as officers chased the teen to the intersection of 95th Street and McVicker Avenue, dashcam video shows police tackle the teen - and officers claim that Abuatelah kept reaching for the bag.

Police said Abuatelah "refused to listen to verbal commands which resulted in a physical confrontation with two officers."

After he was captured, Abuatelah tried to take control of the bag during the incident, police said.

Vittorio also mentioned that the officers feared Abuatelah was reaching for a weapon, and used control tactics to release the teen's hands. 

He didn't stop resisting arrest until a stun gun was used, according to Chief Vittorio.

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

Officers found a Raven Arms P25.25 caliber gun in the bag loaded with three rounds of ammunition, Vittorio said. 

On Monday, Abuatelah's supporters and attorneys were steadfast on holding the Oak Lawn Police Department accountable.

"There's no reason why a young man or young woman in this community should feel like it's okay to be beaten," said attorney Shady Yassin.

Abuatelah's mother, Dena Natour, said her son is struggling.

"He's told me that he is traumatized," Natour said. "He's in fear. He can't sleep at night. He's in pain. He is mentally traumatized."

Yassin took issue with the police chief's claim that officers were in fear for their safety.

"The only fear these officers had was the fear of getting caught what they did to Hadi," he said.

Yassin also accused police of editing the dashcam video showing the incident.

"Now, edit it to chop out audio, edit it to show different parts of the video - but nonetheless, the public was not given what they were promised," said attorney Shady Yassin. "They weren't the dash camera in full. They weren't given the whole story. They were given a very specific story that the police chief wanted to go ahead and portray."

While the family wants Abuatelah home, they stopped short when CBS 2's Jermont Terry pressed them about the gun police said they found.

"That's the allegation," Yassin said. "I still have not seen a single police report. I still have not seen a single photo."

Police released a picture of a weapon they said was recovered from Abuatelah within 24 hours.

Oak Lawn Police

Firearm or not, I will let you know - no police can do what they did to Hadi," Yassin said. "It's absolutely unacceptable."

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris also weighed in on the case last week. With regard to police concerns that Abuatelah might have been reaching for a gun, Harris said, "There's nothing so far to tell us that the police knew what was in the bag until later."

Hadi Abuatelah  Dena Natour

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."

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, has said, regardless of the reason for chasing and arresting Abuatelah, the boy was on the ground, helpless, and not resisting when officers began punching him, even though he posed no threat to them. He said, although Abuatelah is expected to recover from his injuries, it's only a "stroke of luck" that he didn't suffer more serious injuries.

"The way that he was pounded and punched, this could have resulted in a permanent brain injury that changed the quality of life," he said last week. "Regardless of what he was accused of, we have a system in this country. You can subdue the suspect, you can arrest the suspect, handcuff them, proceed to ask them questions. The police department said that there was a gun found. They did not allege that this gun was brandished, that it was threatening them at any point."

Rehab also said the family believes if there was a gun found during the arrest, it was found in a bag after Abuatelah was in custody.

A legal expert spoke to CBS 2 last week about key questions that will need to be answered in the case.

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 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?"

Another of Abuatelah's attorneys, Zaid Abdallah, said the officers who beat him should be suspended, pending an investigation into the beating, and ultimately should be fired.

"This is not policing activity. This is a disgusting act of hate and malice," he said. "You could see, clearly, minutes pass as the officers have my client subdued; both of them, well over 200 pounds, on top of my client before punches to his head, slamming his head off the pavement. Punches to his body, crushing his bones. This was not a situation where they were trying to subdue a suspect. This was a situation that involved malice and hate from these officers."

Abdallah also disputed Oak Lawn Police Department's assertion that one of the officers involved had to go to the hospital.

"If he went to the hospital, he went to the hospital to have his knuckles checked from breaking them on my client's head," he said.

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. Oak Lawn police told us Monday they are unable to comment further. 

When we checked, the three officers were still patrolling as the probe continues.

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