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Off-duty Chicago police officer charged after video shows him kneeling on teen’s back

<i>Nicole Nieves</i><br/>A screengrab from video obtained by CNN shows Vitellaro with his knee on a teenage boy. A portion of this image has been blurred to protect identities.
Nicole Nieves
Nicole Nieves
A screengrab from video obtained by CNN shows Vitellaro with his knee on a teenage boy. A portion of this image has been blurred to protect identities.

By Hannah Sarisohn and Omar Jimenez, CNN

A Chicago police sergeant was charged Thursday with felony official misconduct and aggravated battery six weeks after video surfaced showing him holding a 14-year-old boy in the prone position with his knee while he was off-duty in Park Ridge, Illinois, according to Park Ridge police.

Michael Vitellaro, 49, who has worked for the Chicago Police Department since 2000, got information his son’s bike was stolen from the local library and then seen at a nearby Starbucks, according to a criminal complaint filed August 18 in Cook County that led to the charges.

The off-duty officer drove his son to the Starbucks where he saw his son’s bike on the sidewalk, leaning up against a pillar. He “waited in his car to hopefully observe who had stolen the bicycle,” according to the criminal complaint.

The 14-year-old, identified in the criminal complaint as J.N., was seated on his own bicycle until he dismounted and went to move the Vitellaro’s son’s bike.

“As J.N. touched the bicycle, defendant, who had exited his car shortly before, walked up to J.N., grabbed J.N.’s forearm and pushed J.N. to the ground,” said the complaint.

According to the complaint, Vitellaro forced the boy to the ground and detained him by placing his knee on J.N.’s back.

Video surveillance footage from the Starbucks and other businesses in the area reflects that J.N. was not the person who took the bicycle, the complaint said.

“Instead, the bicycle was already at that location prior to J.N. arriving while riding his own bike,” the document said.

CNN obtained video footage of the incident from attorneys representing the boy’s family. One of his friends captured the video, which also shows a group of boys attempting to get the off-duty sergeant off the 14-year-old.

Vitellaro proceeded to call 911 and ask for backup assistance, according to the complaint. He did not remove his knee from the boy’s back until a bystander questioned him, according to video of the incident and the complaint.

The boy was crying and visibly upset as he walked away from Vitellaro, who followed him, according to the complaint and video.

CNN has reached out to the Chicago Police Department as well as the attorney representing Vitellaro for comment.

Vitellaro turned himself in to Park Ridge police on Thursday and was taken to a bond hearing, according to a media release from the Park Ridge police.

At the news conference Thursday afternoon, J.N.’s family attorney Antonio Romanucci said, “[Vitellaro] used his police powers, his police training, to make an arrest, to make a seizure of our client without any cause whatsoever.”

“There’s absolutely no room in our community for this,” the boy’s mother said today during the news conference. “This is a situation where [J.N.] faced something egregious. He was the only brown boy there and that is part of how we’re processing things as a family.”

A special condition of Vitellaro’s bail is that he not contact J.N. or his family, according to the complaint.

Vitellaro is due back in court on September 8.

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