CHICAGO — A police sergeant who is facing charges of pinning a 14-year-old boy to the sidewalk while off-duty in suburban Park Ridge pleaded not guilty Thursday.
Sgt. Michael Vitellaro is charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct in the case, which was shown in a viral video that made headlines across the United States. He pleaded not guilty at a hearing Thursday, a Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson said.
In a police report, Vitellaro wrote he’d tried to arrest the 14-year-old while off-duty because he thought the teen had stolen his son’s bike — but Vitellaro abused his authority by using excessive force on the boy, who is Puerto Rican, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro could not immediately be reached for comment.
The boy’s parents, Angel and Nicole Nieves, said they are not surprised by the plea and still plan to file a lawsuit against Vitellaro.
“We were not surprised by the not guilty pleas today and it was definitely emotional to be in the same room as this individual for the first time,” Angel and Nicole Nieves said in a statement. “Our family continues to feel so supported by our community and we will continue to show our solidarity until justice is served.”
The incident happened July 1 in Park Ridge. Vitellaro was told his son’s stolen bicycle had been seen near a Starbucks in Park Ridge, prosecutors said at a hearing last month. Vitellaro drove there and saw the bicycle and a group of teens hanging out, and he waited in his car to see if anyone would take it, prosecutors said.
The 14-year-old was sitting on his own bicycle and touched Vitellaro’s son’s bicycle to move it, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro walked up to the boy, grabbed his forearm and pushed him to the ground, prosecutors said. Vitellaro put the boy in an “arm bar,” placed his knee in the boy’s back and held him down while the boy pleaded for him to get off, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro called 911 and told the operator he was an off-duty officer and needed help, prosecutors said.
A woman who witnessed the incident asked Vitellaro why he was pinning the boy, and he said the boy had stolen his son’s bike, prosecutors said.
Vitellaro took his knee off the boy, and the boy’s friends pulled him up. Crying and visibly upset, the boy walked away while Vitellaro followed him, though the boy told him to stop, prosecutors said.
When Park Ridge officers arrived, Vitellaro told them the boy had stolen his son’s bike, prosecutors said.
But surveillance footage from Starbucks and other businesses in the area show the boy did not take the bike, and the bike had been at the location before the boy and his friends rode up, prosecutors said.
The next day, Vitellaro wrote a police report about the incident, writing he had performed an “off-duty arrest” and calling the boy an “offender,” prosecutors said.
Vitellaro joined the Police Department in 2000 and has four use of force complaints, more than 63 percent of officers, according to the Invisible Institute.
A 45-second video released by the law firm representing the Nieves family shows a man kneeling on the boy’s back. The boy’s friends try to pull him away as they repeatedly tell the man, “Get off him.”
The man shouts “he’s taking my son’s bike!” as he begins to step away.
Nicole and Angel Nieves previously said the attack was racially motivated. Their attorneys said Vitellaro targeted the boy, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, as he stood among white friends outside the Starbucks.
At a news conference in August, Nicole Nieves said she was “relieved and pleased” charges were filed against Vitellaro.
“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,” Nicole Nieves said in August, reading from a prepared statement. “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.”
The family is preparing to file a lawsuit “in the very near future,” their attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said in August.
Vitellaro’s next court date is Oct. 19.
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