A sergeant in the Chicago Police Department has been removed from duty and arrested on a felony battery charge weeks after a video showing him kneeling on a Puerto Rican teen’s back went viral, authorities say.
Michael Vitellaro turned himself over to police on Thursday in Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb, the department said in a news release. The former sergeant also faces a charge of official misconduct.
Vitellaro’s arrest followed a frustrating six weeks for the parents of 14-year-old Josh Nieves, as they fought to raise awareness of the incident through a petition that garnered more than 1,500 signatures by Thursday afternoon and regular updates to Facebook.
Video of the incident went viral on Fourth of July weekend. It showed Vitellaro pinning Nieves down with his knee squarely in the teen’s back outside a Starbucks. Surrounding the two were Nieves’ friends, who argued with Vitellaro until the 49-year-old begrudgingly let the teen go.
The teen’s mother, Nicole Nieves, described what led up to the incident in a string of social media posts in July. She said her son, who already had a bike of his own, moved an abandoned bike that was blocking the sidewalk outside the Starbucks. Vitellaro spotted her son with the bike and—despite being off-duty and out of Chicago police’s jurisdiction—rushed to grab Nieves wrist and “slammed” him to the ground, believing he was trying to swipe the bike.
“Get your hands off of him,” Nieves’ friends can be heard saying in the video.
Nicole Nieves said video of the incident shows that her son’s shoe flew off while he was being taken down. She says the video also shows the bike that Nieves owned right next to him, suggesting he had no need to steal a bike.
“No shoes, knee in his back, gasping for breath, arms locked - being pinned down by a white, unidentified, off-duty Chicago police officer,” she wrote in a post.
Nieves was eventually freed without injury, but his mom says he was shaken up after the incident.
“One minute, you’re cooking dinner… the next, you’re getting a call from your 14-year-old son, stumbling over his words through hysterical tears, saying, ‘Mom, please come pick me up,’” Nieves wrote.
Nicole Nieves said she rushed to the Starbucks through closed streets to see her son, who she described as “a brown boy with afro hair,” standing in “a sea of light faces.”
“Confused. Crying. Scared. Shocked,” Nicole Nieves posted, describing her son.
Vitellaro has since been “relieved of his police powers,” reported Fox 32.
The Citizens Police Data Project, which tracks police misconduct in Chicago, says that Vitellaro has had four use of force complaints filed against him—more than 63 percent of other officers—in his 22 years at the department.
Chicago police have not made a public statement about the incident or ensuing arrest, nor did the department immediately answer an email from The Daily Beast to confirm Vitellaro’s employment status and past complaints against him.
“This was wrong,” posted Nicole Nieves. “And our family will not stand for it.”