A Chicago police sergeant is facing felony charges after he was caught on video pinning down a 14-year-old boy with his knee in what he described as an off-duty arrest in Park Ridge, Illinois, police said Thursday.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office approved felony charges of official misconduct and aggravated battery against Michael A. Vitellaro, 49, for the July 1 incident, Park Ridge police said in a statement. Vitellaro turned himself in and was taken to the Cook County courthouse for a bond hearing, police said.
“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," Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski said.
The incident happened outside a Starbucks where the boy, who is Puerto Rican, moved a bike on the sidewalk in order to pass by on his own bike, Antonio Romanucci, an attorney for the teen’s family, said last month. The officer can be heard on video accusing the boy of stealing his son's bike, Romanucci said.
Video shows the officer pinning the boy's arms behind his back, putting him face-down and then kneeling on the boy's back.
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The dangers of police officers placing people in a face-down position — also called the “prone position” — gained national attention after the 2020 death of George Floyd when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Some agencies prohibit officers from using the position for longer than necessary to gain control.
After a female bystander questioned Vitellaro, he removed his knee from the boy's back, but continued to follow the teen who was visibly upset and crying, according to the charging documents. Video surveillance footage shows the boy was not the person who stole a bicycle from Vitellaro's son, the criminal complaint says.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump posted the video to social media, saying the officer's actions were "unacceptable" and that he should be "held accountable."
An off-duty Chicago officer forcefully pinned a 14-yo boy to the ground with a knee in his BACK after accusing the boy of stealing a bike that belonged to his son. This is unacceptable! This officer MUST be held accountable for assaulting & profiling this young teen! pic.twitter.com/B0fs0Rnen5
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) July 5, 2022
Charging documents say Vitellaro completed a report the next day describing the incident as an off-duty arrest and claiming the "offender" did not follow his verbal commands.
Romanucci told the Chicago Sun-Times in July that the incident “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,” he said.
Angel and Nicole Nieves, the teen's parents, said they are "extremely relieved and pleased" with the charges in a statement released by their attorney.
“We are still trying to assess the full impact of this traumatic incident on our son, who is only 14 and still processing all that happened to him," the statement said. "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."
A Chicago police spokesperson said Vitellaro was relieved of his police powers on Wednesday but still works for the department. Vitellaro has worked for the department since 2000, according to the criminal complaint.
The Chicago Civilian Office of Police Accountability said last month it is also investigating the officer's actions. Vitellaro is expected to return to court on Sept. 8.
Contact Breaking News Reporter N'dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chicago police officer charged after kneeling on teen's back in video