Adam Toledo: Everything we know about the police killing of a 13-year-old boy in Chicago

Chicago’s mayor has called for an end to police foot chases in the city

Graig Graziosi
Friday 16 April 2021 14:31 BST
Newly released body cam footage shows the shooting of Adam Toledo
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The shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a police officer has shaken the city of Chicago, resulting in calls for police reform and greater accountability for law enforcement.

Toledo was shot by officer Eric Stillman, 34, on 29 March during what Chicago police called an “armed confrontation,” as they initially claimed that the boy had a gun. He was killed after he was chased into an alley by police officers during a chase.

Protesters took the to street on Thursday evening, following release of body camera footage of the shooting that showed a police officer shoot and kill the 13-year-old boy as he appeared to be raising his hands.

Later in the evening, a Chicago prosecutor’s office then walked back previous claims that he was holding a gun when shot by police after video showed the 13-year-old with empty hands in the air.

In response to questions over whether the teenager was holding a gun at the time of the shooting as Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy Murphy said, a spokesperson for the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Fox said in a statement to NBC News 5 Chicago it was an “error”.

“An attorney who works in this office failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court,” the statement said.

The video prompted the city’s mayor Lori Lightfoot, who had supported prosecutors’ version of events, to say they “failed Adam”.

“We cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city,” she said at a press conference, while declining to comment on whether the videos showed a gun in his hand.

Here's everything we know so far.

What happened

On 29 March, police received a call of “shots fired” in Little Village just after 2am.

According to the Chicago police report detailing the incident, two people in an ally fled from officers when they arrived on scene. The officers pursued the individuals into the alley.

The police report claims the chase ended in a "confrontation" during which an officer shot Toledo in the chest, killing him.

Police said a weapon was later found at the scene.

A 21 year old man, Ruben Roman, was arrested at the scene and is believed to have been the man with Toledo.

Tom Ahern, a Chicago police spokesman, called the incident an "armed confrontation" in a tweet. He also shared a photo of the gun police found at the scene and said the other individual involved in the confrontation had been taken into custody.

The confrontation was captured on body camera footage, but the video was initially withheld from release as a court order was needed because Toledo was a juvenile.

The agency released the footage Thursday. The boy’s family was shown the footage on Wednesday. Following their viewing, the family’s legal team released a statement saying the “experience was extremely difficult and heartbreaking for everyone present and especially for Adam’s family.”

The body camera footage

It does not appear in the video that Toledo had a weapon in his hand when he turned around, but his hands were up.

Immediately after officer Stillam shoots Toledo, he calls for medical support and tends to his wounds. Officers can be seen trying to perform chest compressions on Toledo in an attempt to revive him.

Eventually Mr Stillman walks away from the scene and appears to be crying. Shortly after, another officer calls over the police radio and instructs officers at the scene to turn off their cameras.

Audio in the footage does not begin until after the officer who shot Toledo exits his car and begins chasing Ruben Ramon, 21, and Toledo down an alley. The officer shoves Mr Roman to the ground, and another officer - who can be seen in a separate video - puts him in cuffs.

The officer continues chasing Toledo down the alley, and yells for him to stop. Toledo does and turns around with his hands up. Before he is fully turned around the officer fires a single shot into Toledo’s chest.

The public response to the shooting

Elizabeth Toledo, Adam Toledo's mother, said the boy wanted to be a police officer when he became an adult, and started a GoFundMe page to cover the expenses relating to the boys death.

"Adam had many dreams that he will never get to live out," the page says. "Ironically one of his dreams was to become a police officer."

She said her son enjoyed playing with Lego and telling jokes.

"He was a child that brightened up the room when he would walk in," she wrote. "It weighs heavy on our hearts to be planning our last goodbyes instead of watching him grow up and live out those dreams."

According to police, gangs in the area have called for members to shoot at unmarked police cars in retaliation for the shooting. Ms Toledo denounced the alleged calls for violence.

"No one has anything to gain by inciting violence," Ms Toledo said Sunday in a statement. "Adam was a sweet and loving boy. He would not want anyone else to be injured or die in his name."

She said she hoped no gang members were "foolish enough to do something."

Following the release of the footage, Ms Lightfoot said that it was “hard to watch,” particularly at the end.

She said the video was “excruciating” during a press conference on Thursday and choked up while discussing footage of Toledo after he was shot. Ms Lightfoot also said she saw no evidence suggesting Toledo shot at officers.

“We appreciate the community support and are grateful that events so far have remained peaceful,” the family’s lawyer, Adeena Weiss Ortiz said Wednesday in a statement. “We pray that for the sake of our city, people remain peaceful to honor Adam’s memory and work constructively to promote reform.”

A group of activists marched on Wednesday following the news that the family had witnessed the video and that the footage would be released Thursday.

A small protest was organised the weekend following the announcement that Toledo was killed.

About 50 people gathered in Palmer Square Park and marched to intersections where they stopped to rally. Demonstrators carried signs that read "abolish the police" and "Justice for Adam."

“No country is right for a child to die at the hands of our law enforcement,” Enrique Enriquez, a member of the Little Village Community Council who helped organize an earlier rally in Little Village and who knows the Toledo family, told Block Club Chicago. “We are not going to allow any of this to continue [in Little Village].”

He called for Mr Stillman to be fired.

“The officer must lose his badge and the camera [footage] has to come out within 48 hours — just like it took them 48 hours to say [Toledo] was gone,” he said. “That child got the right like every other child to live his life and now we cannot give that to him. But what we can give him is justice.”

Critics of the police department noted that it waited 48 hours before releasing a statement about the boy's death. Ms Toledo filed a missing person's report for her son days before the shooting.

Small groups of protesters then gathered at a police station and marched downtown on Thursday night. They were met by helmeted officers, social media images showed, but there were no immediate reports of conflict.

Police response to the shooting

Mr Stillman has been placed on administrative duty pending an investigation into the incident.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown issued a statement following the shooting.

Mr Brown called an armed confrontation with a juvenile his "greatest fear" in his statement.

"Unfortunately, this fear became a reality earlier this week," Mr Brown said. "Any loss of life is tragic, especially when it involves the youth."

He offered his sympathies to Toledo's family and said his department would "fully support" COPA's investigation into the shooting.

"The split-second decision to use deadly force is extremely difficult for any officer and is always a heavy burden to bear for officers involved in fatal shooting incidents," Mr Brown said.

The Chicago Police Department put out an "officer safety alert" after its Narcotics Division learned that gangs in the city had allegedly called on members to shoot at unmarked police cars in retaliation for Toledo's shooting.

The Fraternal Order of Police union president representing the Chicago Police Department, John Catanzara, issued a statement claiming the shooting was justified.

“The officer was absolutely shaken by the circumstances of which happened that night because a life was taken,” Mr Catanzara said. “But it was justified. The offender was fleeing from the police with a weapon. It’s irregardless that he was 13 years old.”

Police have yet to say which of the two males was holding the gun when Toledo was shot. Prosecutors claim Toledo was the one holding the gun, and refused to drop the weapon.

During her first press conference, Ms Lightfoot said she agreed with the state attorney’s assessment but would not confirm that Toledo was holding the gun.

However, the state attorney’s office said Thursday that the prosecutor who made the claim was “not fully informed” of the video’s contents, suggesting the claim may be incorrect.

“An attorney who works in this office failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court,”  Sarah Sinovic, a spokesperson for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, told local broadcaster WGN Investigates.

New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused the prosecutor who said they made an error when they initially claimed Toledo was holding a gun of lying.

“The prosecutor did not ‘make an error.’ He lied,” the Democratic representative tweeted.

“He lied about the police killing a child.

“Ending this isn’t just about consequences for who pulls the trigger. It’s about admitting to and confronting an entire system that exists to protect, defend, and cover up state violence.”

Call for police reform

Ms Lightfoot has called for police reforms in the wake of Toledo's shooting.

She has called for police to stop chasing suspects on foot, though there has been no further detail on how that policy would - or could - work.

Ms Lightfoot called for a "thorough, expeditious" investigation into the shooting, and said that police foot chases were among the most dangerous activities for both police officers and suspects in the city.

"We cannot and will not push the foot pursuit reform off for another day," Ms Lightfoot said during a press conference on Monday. "No longer can we afford to put off to tomorrow what we can address today because lives are truly at stake."

The city has had a troubled history with its police and use of force issues.

A study by researchers with Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Irvine, published in the journal Science in February found that white officers in Chicago more likely to use force than non-white officers.

In 2014, public outcry exploded after a dashcam video of police emerged showing officers shooting Laquan McDonald 14 times before he collapsed. Mr McDonald was walking away from police when he was shot.

The city has seen its largest surge of violence since 2017, with 131 homicides on record during the first quarter of 2021.

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