OAK LAWN, IL — The Oak Lawn Police Department is at the center of controversy for the second time in less than a year. Activists accuse officers of allowing a white driver who allegedly admitted to drinking before she struck an Arab American man earlier this month after he had parked his car. Murod Kurdi, 28, died of his injuries a few days later.

Over 200 people organized by the Arab American Action Network rallied Tuesday in front of Oak Lawn Village Hall. The activists claim that police should have contacted the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for a court-ordered blood draw after the driver refused to take field sobriety and breathalyzer tests at the accident scene. Instead, she was given a ticket for speeding and allowed to go home.

“Our community has borne the brunt of racism, racial profiling, and, unfortunately in Murod’s story, in the eyes of the Arab American Action Network, is another example of the police department treating us less than,” said Muhammad Sankari, lead organizer for the AAAN.

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Just after 5:30 p.m., June 5, Kurdi came home from work and parked his vehicle on the street in front of his family’s home in the 5100 block of West 91st Street. The driver was heading west on 91st Street.

The Kurdi family’s attorney, David Petrich, said video evidence provided to his firm showed Kurdi standing in the street near his vehicle.

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“There was a clear, unimpeded view of the street,” Petrich told Patch. “She hit him so hard he flew over the front of his vehicle and landed on the parkway west of his house. When he hits the ground there is zero movement. He hit the ground so hard it shook the vehicle next to him.”

According to a prepared statement Petrich read at the rally, he and the Kurdi family met with Oak Lawn police on June 16. He claimed they learned that during questioning by officers on the scene, the driver smelled of alcohol and admitted to having “two drinks.”

“Based upon these facts, requests for field sobriety and breathalyzers were made but the offender exercised her rights not to comply with the request,” the family’s attorney said. “Simply put, she refused to cooperate any further with the investigation.”

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The driver, a woman in her 20s, also had her young child in her vehicle. Petrich said video evidence provided to his firm showed the woman driving a block away from the accident scene before stopping. The driver did return to the scene.

During the rally, Petrich explained that while the driver refused to participate in breathalyzer and other tests to determine if she was impaired, police had other investigative tools they could have at their disposal to initiate the process for a forced blood draw.

“If the offender did not agree to a blood draw, the police officers are aware of the process to initiate a forced blood draw. There is no doubt that a forced blood draw should have been the next step,” the attorney said. “Instead, the police officers at the scene jointly decided to let the offender go home with a citation for speeding.”

Petrich called for an independent review by an outside agency of the Oak Lawn Police Department’s investigation and decision to release the driver to determine if there is enough evidence to file additional charges against the driver.

“The failure by the Oak Lawn police officers to conduct a thorough investigation will leave the
family with the unanswered question of why,” Petrich said. “I am sure that some of you have concluded why the police officers allowed the offender to go home with only a citation at the same time the family is at the hospital witnessing Murod struggling to stay alive.”

The Oak Lawn Police Department is already under scrutiny for the violent arrest last year of 17-year-old Hadi Abuatelah that happened in July 2022. The teen fled a traffic stop after he and his friends were pulled over allegedly for an expired plate and the odor of marijuana wafting from the car. A citizen’s video captured three officers holding down Abuatelah while punching him in the body and head. Police said they were in fear for their lives and later found Abuatelah to be armed with a loaded gun. An Oak Lawn police officer, Patrick O’Donnell, was charged in February with felony aggravated battery and official misconduct. The teen is also facing juvenile gun charges.

One of the officers who met with the Kurdi family on June 16, Mark Hollingsworth, participated in Abuatelah’s arrest last year but has not been charged. Hollingsworth was off duty and not at the scene when the driver was cited and allowed to go home after she allegedly struck Kurdi.

Robert Olson, the driver’s attorney who is a friend of his son’s, said she called him from the scene of the accident. She claims Kurdi stepped out from between parked cars in front of her vehicle. Olson said he advised her not to take a breathalyzer test or submit to a blood draw.

“The cops asked if she had anything to drink,” Olson. “They asked her if she wanted to take field sobriety tests. She’s 215 pounds. She said no because of her weight. They asked if she wanted to take a breathalyzer and she said no. She also refused blood-urine [analysis].”

Oak Lawn police have filed a statutory suspension against the driver for failure to blow, which constitutes an automatic 12-month license suspension in Illinois. In order to file a statutory license suspension, Olson said the driver has to be charged with a DUI.

“[Officers] didn’t believe they had reasonable grounds to charge her with driving under the influence,” Olson said.

Olson added that he plans to file a petition to rescind the license suspension at the driver’s upcoming court hearing in August, who was also cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

The Village Oak Lawn released a written statement stating that the accident remains under investigation and police are “pursuing several avenues in that regard.”

“The Village sympathizes with the loss of life and expresses its condolences to Mr. Kurdi’s family,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, activists have made accusations against Oak Lawn police that officers didn’t conduct a thorough investigation, despite a death being involved, because the victim was Palestinian and the driver was white.

“Let me ask you this,” Bill Beaulieu said at the rally, a member of Southsiders for Peace. “If the position were reversed and Murod Kurdi hit this woman and killed her, and smelled of alcohol, would the same outcome have happened? We’ll give you a ticket for speeding and ignore the alcohol? Can anyone here imagine that happening? If it smells like racism, it probably is.”

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