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Jury finds in favor of Chicago cops who shot robbery victim

Bassil Abdelal as he leaves the Dirksen Federal Building this week. |Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

A federal jury rejected an Austin beauty store owner’s claim that he was wrongfully shot by three Chicago police officers in March 2012 after he was robbed at gunpoint.

Jurors sided Thursday with Officers Miguel Torres, Rolando Ruiz and Thomas Petrenko on claims of excessive force, false arrest, assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress, awarding no damages to store owner Bassil Abdelal. The officers’ lawyers said Abdelal pointed a shiny chrome handgun at the officers when they responded to the robbery. Abdelal denied it.

The federal civil trial had previously been set to begin in December 2015, weeks after a Cook County judge ordered release of video depicting the fatal shooting by police of 17­-year­-old Laquan McDonald. Fearing the officers would not get a fair trial amid the swirling controversy, city lawyers convinced U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to delay the case until this month.

But in the end, it took jurors roughly four hours to vindicate the officers at the end of a four-day trial. Abdelal’s attorney, Justin London, refused to acknowledge a reporter as he left the courtroom.

“We are pleased that after hearing the evidence in this case, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the police officers and the city,” Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said in an email.

Pallmeyer noted before the trial began that the case came down to whether Abdelal pointed the gun at the officers.

Several jurors declined to comment on their decision as they left the courthouse Thursday.

Three masked robbers stormed Abdelal’s B&B Beauty Supply at Lake and Laramie on March 14, 2012, and held him and his father­-in­-law at gunpoint. The robbers ultimately fled, and one dropped a gun a few feet outside the shop’s door.

Abdelal said he bent over to pick it up for protection — and he testified that he was immediately shot as he stood up.

Abdelal’s lawsuit indicates he was “wounded with 11 bullets to his hands, shoulder, toes, legs, and hips.” But his lawyers told jurors he was shot six times. He said he did not see or hear officers telling him to drop the gun.

Marion Moore, a lawyer for the officers, said there was no mistake or rush to judgment. She said the officers saw Abdelal walk out of his shop and point the large handgun squarely in their direction, refusing to drop it, so they opened fire. Petrenko corroborated that account on the witness stand.

“There was a man pointing a gun in our direction,” Petrenko testified. He said he heard Torres give Abdelal verbal commands to “drop your weapon.” And he said the officers had no time to find cover as an alternative to shooting Abdelal.

“I’m not going to hide from the threat that’s facing us,” Petrenko testified.