Trial set to start over 2012 police shooting of robbery victim

(CHICAGO) The masked robber pressed the barrel of a gun deeper into Bassil Abdelal’s flesh as the Austin beauty store owner fumbled with a cash register during a stickup four years ago.

But inside was no more than $200. The robber and two accomplices began to scream: “Give more money or you be dead!” But the police arrived and the robbers bolted, dropping their guns as they left the store in the 5100 block of West Lake, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Shaken, Abdelal claims he picked up a gun for protection and began to step outside. That’s when Abdelal was shot 11 times. Not by robbers. But by Chicago Police officers, who insist Abdelal pointed the gun at them as he walked out of the store.

Now Abdelal is set to take to trial the federal lawsuit he filed against the city and three police officers involved in his shooting. The trial has been delayed multiple times, partly because of the court-ordered release of video depicting the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

“The present media environment makes it impossible for Defendant Officers to receive the unbiased jury they deserve,” city lawyers wrote in December as they sought to postpone the trial after the McDonald video’s release.

Abdelal’s lawyer, Justin London, declined to comment on the case.

Passions have simmered since December, but the trial still comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the Chicago Police Department. The Justice Department launched a pattern or practice investigation of CPD in the days after the release of the McDonald video. There have also been leadership changes at CPD, resulting in veteran officer Eddie Johnson taking over as superintendent.

The city has been pressured into the release of videos depicting the final moments of others who died police-related deaths, including Ronald Johnson, Philip Coleman, Cedrick Chatman and Heriberto Godinez. The City Council authorized $6.5 million in police abuse settlements recently, including in the Coleman case.

And the settlements came roughly one month after a federal judge sentenced former Chicago Police officer Aldo Brown to two years in prison for using excessive force in a September 2012 beating caught by a security camera at a South Side convenience store.

Now lawyers for Abdelal and the city are preparing for trial Monday in front of U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, who has noted the case comes down to whether Abdelal pointed the gun at officers.

Abdelal’s ordeal began around 8:30 p.m. on March 14, 2012, as he was closing up B&B Beauty Supply, according to his lawsuit. A man knocked on the door looking for barrettes but ran away. Abdelal suspects it was a setup to get him to unlock the door.

That’s because the man returned with two others — all wearing masks — and stormed the store, according to the complaint. They allegedly put a gun to his head, as well as to his father-in-law’s. Abdelal said they forced his father-in-law to show them the circuit breakers so they could shut off the store’s electricity and surveillance system.

Abdelal couldn’t open the register with the power off. But the robbers were threatening the lives of both men and were “pushing the gun harder” into Abdelal’s head. Finally, the robbers turned the electricity back on and Abdelal opened the register — only to find between $160 and $200, according to the lawsuit.

The robbers threatened to kill him if he couldn’t find more cash, Abdelal said. But then they heard police arrive, and the robbers fled. Six officers responded, and three of them chased the robbers, according to a filing by city lawyers.

The three others — Officers Miguel Torres, Rolando Ruiz and Thomas Petrenko — remained. Ruiz stood in front of the store while Petrenko and Torres crossed the street toward the store, the city lawyers wrote. That’s when they said Abdelal “came out of the store holding a large revolver out in front of him, pointed in the direction of Defendant Officers.”

Lawyers for the city acknowledged that all three officers fired several rounds at Abdelal.

But Abdelal has said he “threw the gun down to the ground and did not point it at anyone.” He said he was shot in the hands, shoulder, toes, legs and hips.