CHICAGO — Chicago has released video footage showing the fatal police shooting of Adam Toledo, more than two weeks after the 13-year-old was killed during a foot chase in the Little Village neighborhood.
A graphic and disturbing video captures what police have described as an alleyway confrontation between Toledo and an officer identified as Eric Stillman in the early morning of March 29.
In the footage recorded from the shooting officer’s body-worn camera, the officer appears behind the wheel of a squad car responding to a call of shots fired. About 1 minute and 44 seconds in, the officer pulls over, jumps out of the vehicle and starts running after someone. Seconds later, he appears to slam into a person walking in the alley but continues his pursuit. (The man was later identified as Ruben Roman, who police say fired the gun that called officers to the scene in the first place.)
One minute and 59 seconds in, the officer’s audio comes on, and he can be heard yelling, “Police! Stop! Stop right f***ing now.”
The boy, who is standing near a wooden fence, appears to stop, and at 2 minutes and 3 seconds, the officer commands, “Hands. Show me your f***ing hands!”
Toledo starts to turn to face the officer with his hands up, both empty.
A second later, the officer says, “Drop it,” and quickly fires a single gunshot.
The blast rings out at 2 minutes and 5 seconds — 20 seconds after the officer began the foot pursuit. At 2 minutes and 6 seconds, Toledo’s body crumples onto the ground, though he appears to try to hold himself up.
“Shots fired, shots fired. Get an ambulance over here now,” the officer is heard saying. “Look at me, look at me. You all right?” he asks the boy.
The officer then stretches the child’s legs out, and his full body comes into view. He is wearing a black Nike sweatshirt with the words “Just Do It,” which are now covered in bright red blood; skinny jeans; and white sneakers. His face and hands, which are near his shoulders, are also smeared with blood.
At 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the officer asks, “Where you shot?” as he lifts Toledo’s sweatshirt, revealing his torso.
“Stay with me,” he says.
The boy’s face rolls from right to left. His eyes are bulging and his mouth is agape as the officer calls for a medical kit. Other officers arrive and begin shouting for Toledo to stay awake. At 3 minutes and 30 seconds, the officer who fired at Toledo says, “I’m going to start CPR. I’m not feeling a heartbeat.” Seven seconds later, he begins performing chest compressions.
He pumps on the boy’s chest for about a minute and a half; then at 5 minutes and 5 seconds, he gets up off the boy, lets someone else take over and takes a walk away from the cluster of officers. He can be heard breathing but doesn’t say anything.
He paces down the alley and back, walks through an opening in a fence where officers are attending to the boy. An officer’s flashlight illuminates the fence. A gun sits at the bottom, leaning against the fence, handle up.
The officer paces away, stands with his shadow looming in the frame, and another officer steps next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. Neither can be heard saying anything and at no point in the video does the officer refer to the gun.
At about 8 minutes and 7 seconds, he sits on the ground against the wooden fence and appears to let out a quiet sob. His body can be seen shaking. He remains in the same position until he shuts off his camera at 9 minutes and 23 seconds.
Officials have expressed concern that the disturbing videos could set off a new wave of protests in the city against the police department, which activists accuse of brutality and abuse, especially against communities of color. Toledo is Hispanic, and Stillman, the officer who shot him, is white.
Stillman was placed on administrative duty.
In a report explaining why he fired his gun, Stillman checked boxes that said the subject’s behavior presented an “imminent threat of battery with weapon.” Under “Reason for Response,” Stillman checked boxes saying he acted “in defense of self” and to “overcome resistance or aggression.”
Chicago waited for the video
Bracing for the release of the videos, the Toledo family’s attorney issued a joint statement with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, pleading for a peaceful response from the community.
“We acknowledge that the release of this video is the first step in the process toward the healing of the family, the community and our city. We understand that the release of this video will be incredibly painful and elicit an emotional response to all who view it, and we ask that people express themselves peacefully,” the statement says.
Lightfoot also held a news conference just before the explicit videos were made public, asking for people to give the family “space to breathe.”
“No parent should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place,” she said.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which is investigating the shooting, after some public deliberation decided to publish the body camera footage and other materials in an effort to be transparent with the public — but only after showing it to the Toledo family and giving the family two days to process the boy’s final moments.
Community members had been calling for its release in recent days, during which COPA initially wavered on whether it could publish a video involving a juvenile and the Toledo family asked that it be delayed.
Events of March 29
Police have said that Toledo was killed in the early hours of March 29, when officers responded to reports of gunshots and encountered him and another male.
David Brown, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said at a news conference that a gunshot-detection system reported shots in the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue around 2:30 a.m. local time. Officers arrived in time to see two males fleeing from a nearby alley, and Brown said one was armed with a handgun.
The officers pursued them on foot, which Brown said resulted in a “confrontation” in the alley. An officer shot the child in the chest, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The involved officer discharged his weapon once, according to COPA, and body camera footage captured the encounter. The officers involved have been placed on administrative duties for 30 days, Brown said, per routine protocol.
The other individual, who was apprehended at the scene, has since been identified as 21-year-old Ruben Roman. He was arrested last Friday over what police described as a “probation violation warrant for his participation” in the March 29 shooting, and he also faces three felony charges: reckless discharge of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and endangerment of a child.
Cook County prosecutors said on Saturday that Roman had fired the gun at a passing vehicle, setting off the notification system, but that Toledo had been holding it during the encounter with police and was warned repeatedly to drop it before police shot him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“If [Roman] does not bring [Toledo] with him at 2:30 in the morning, if he doesn’t bring his gun with him while on gun offender probation, if he doesn’t shoot that gun seven or eight times on a city street with [Toledo] standing right next to him … and then fleeing with that gun, none of this would have happened,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said.
Assistant Public Defender Courtney Smallwood, who represents Roman, argued that Toledo died “at the hands of the Chicago police officers, not my client,” saying there was no proof that the gun belonged to Roman or that he had brought Toledo outside with him in the first place, the Sun-Times reported.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot later vowed to hold the person who handed Toledo a gun accountable.
“Let’s be clear,” she said. “An adult put a gun in a child’s hand. A young and impressionable child. And one who should not have been provided with lethal force. A weapon that could and did irreparably change the course of his life.”
Toledo’s identity was not made public for three days. Brown, the police superintendent, said this month that the delay was because Roman, whom he did not name, gave a false name for Toledo to police and because the boy’s fingerprints did not match any database records. Ultimately, Brown said, police were able to identify Toledo by looking through resolved missing persons reports.
The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, reported her son missing on March 26 but told detectives the next day that her son had returned, Brown said. When police contacted her again on March 31 to say his description matched that of an unidentified person in the morgue, she said he had left home again either late March 27 or early March 28, according to Brown.
At an April 2 news conference, member station WBEZ reported, Toledo’s mother said he had four siblings ranging in age from 11 to 24. She said she had last seen him when she put him to bed the night before the shooting.
Her lawyer, Adeena J. Weiss-Ortiz, translating from Spanish, said she was feeling judged by the community and wanted to share that she was a full-time mother to her five children.
At a community vigil several days later, Jacqueline Herrera from the anti-violence group Enlace Chicago read a statement on behalf of Elizabeth Toledo in which she described her son as caring, imaginative and curious since birth. He loved the show The Walking Dead and had even gone to lengths to plan for a zombie apocalypse, with a bag packed and ready to go, WBEZ reported.
“This child wanted to be an officer. And he was shot by the hands of another officer,” Weiss-Ortiz said. “The mother wants to know the truth of all facts surrounding the death of her son.”
The seventh-grader still played with Hot Wheels and Legos at home and had no criminal history, his mother said.
Back-and-forth over video’s public release
COPA initially said it could not publicly release the footage of the shooting because it involved a juvenile. As WBEZ’s Patrick Smith reported for NPR, “Experts scoffed at that, and the city relented.”
Reversing course, COPA said in a series of tweets it had determined that provisions of state law intended to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records did not in fact bar it from releasing material related to the investigation. It announced plans to post the video publicly within 60 days of the incident, after showing it to Toledo’s family first.
The Toledo family viewed the video and other materials related to the shooting on Tuesday, COPA said, but requested that they not be released immediately “as the family continues to grieve their loss.”
Attorneys for the family described seeing the footage as “extremely difficult and heartbreaking for everyone present,” NBC Chicago reported.
COPA said Wednesday it had informed the family’s attorney that it would release materials on Thursday, including the body camera footage, third-party video, the gunshot-detection recordings, Office of Emergency Management and Communications transmissions and arrest reports.
Calls for justice and police reform
The city is bracing for protests Thursday in an already-tense atmosphere, amid the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and days of demonstrations over the police killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, in a nearby suburb of Minneapolis.
To prepare for possible protests, the Chicago Police Department canceled days off for thousands of officers in specialized units, the Sun-Times reported, and is prepared to reschedule thousands of other personnel to 12-hour shifts.
Toledo’s killing has prompted a pledge to change police policy.
For years, activists and experts have advocated for Chicago police to adjust their department guidance on foot chases, saying it can lead to unnecessary violent confrontations, Smith, of WBEZ, told NPR.
Days after the shooting, Lightfoot called foot pursuits “a significant safety issue” and promised a change before the summer. She did not provide details but said a new policy will be based on input from both officers and residents.
The U.S. Justice Department found four years ago that CPD officers “engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone — including unarmed individuals.”
“The impact of CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force fall heaviest on predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods,” the federal investigation stated.
The ACLU of Illinois called a foot-pursuit policy change long overdue.
“For four years, the City and CPD resisted repeated calls from advocates and the community to adopt a foot pursuit policy,” said Nusrat Choudhury, legal director at the ACLU of Illinois. “It should not have taken the death of a 13-year-old to finally get a response.”