CHICAGO — A police sergeant was acquitted of felony charges Friday, nearly a year after pinning a 14-year-old boy to the sidewalk while off-duty in suburban Park Ridge.
Sgt. Michael Vitellaro was found not guilty of aggravated battery and official misconduct charges during a bench trial in suburban Skokie, according to Cook County court records. Cook County Judge Paul Pavlus presided over the trial.
Vitellaro was charged in August 2022 in connection with the incident, part of which was captured on a viral video. He was stripped of his police powers that month and remains on a leave of absence, police said.
The confrontation started around 5:15 p.m. July 1, 2022, when Vitellaro was told his son’s stolen bicycle had been seen near a Starbucks in Park Ridge, prosecutors previously said.
Vitellaro drove there and saw the bicycle and a group of teens hanging out, but 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 teen, grabbed his forearm and pushed him to the ground, prosecutors said. Vitellaro put the teen in an “arm bar,” placed his knee in the teen’s back and held him down while the teen pleaded for him to get off, prosecutors said.
In the video, the teen’s friends try to pull a man away as they repeatedly tell him, “Get off him.” The man shouts, “He’s taking my son’s bike!,” as he begins to step away.
In police reports, Vitellaro wrote he’d tried to arrest the teen because he thought he stole his son’s bike. Prosecutors argued that Vitellaro abused his authority by using excessive force.
Pavlus said he was “outraged” by the video of the officer on top of the teen, but found the testimony from the teen and his friends was not credible, according to the Sun-Times. He said their stories had changed and they couldn’t recount key details on the stand, the Sun-Times reported.
Pavlus also said the teens may have been pressured to testify, pointing to the family retaining attorneys for a possible civil lawsuit, according to the Sun-Times.
Vitellaro’s defense attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
In a statement, attorneys for the teen’s family said they will now pursue a lawsuit in civil court.
“Michael Vitellaro escaped criminal justice today,” the statement said. “The Judge today created a story that this child was somehow on the bike, despite no video evidence of that being true, to justify his not guilty ruling and exonerate this Chicago Police Officer.”
The teen’s parents, Nicole and Angel Nieves, previously said the attack was racially motivated. Their attorneys previously said Vitellaro targeted the teen, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, as he stood among white friends outside a Starbucks.
“This child was unarmed and presented zero physical threat to the officer,” the family’s statement read.
During the two-week trial, both sides brought in police instructors who gave opposing testimony about the validity of Vitellaro’s use of force, according to ABC7 Chicago.
Vitellaro’s son testified he left his bike unlocked at a library and later saw it at the nearby Starbucks, where his father pinned the teen after touching the bike, according to ABC7.
The teen and some of his friends testified that he had only touched the bike, and Vitellaro did not identify himself as a police officer when he had his knee on the teen’s back, according to ABC7.
Another teenager testified he had actually been the one who moved the bike from the library to the Starbucks, according to ABC7.
In March, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability concluded a sealed investigation into the incident and sent findings to the Police Superintendent for review, COPA spokesperson Jennifer Rottner said.
Vitellaro joined the police in 2000 and has four use of force complaints, more than 63 percent of officers, according to the Invisible Institute.
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