Lessons from the police shootings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez

No officers will face criminal charges in the shootings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez. That should not mean the officers, and the Chicago Police Department as a whole, should not be held accountable for needed change.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx briefs the media on the office’s decision to not pursue criminal charges in the shooting deaths of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx briefs the media on the office’s decision to not pursue criminal charges in the shooting deaths of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The fatal Chicago police shootings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez happened just days apart last March, leaving two families grieving and the city reeling from public outrage.

Now, the hurt and anger the families faced a year ago are certain to be deeply felt once again: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced Tuesday that her office will not file criminal charges against any of the officers involved.

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“This is a somber announcement,” Foxx said Tuesday. “There are no winners in this situation.”

Not the families, whose grief and anger is understandable.

Not Chicago either, which has seen too many police shootings and incidents of misconduct over the years and shelled out hundreds of millions in lawsuit settlements because of it.

In these cases, Foxx said, there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges. The office of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor agreed. The decision is on solid legal ground, but it will still be a bitter pill for families to swallow.

As shown on police body camera video, the Mar. 29, 2021 Toledo shooting unfolded in milliseconds. Officer Eric Stillman, who was pursuing the teen down an alley in Little Village because of a report of gunshots in the area, yells “Drop it!” to Toledo — but then virtually immediately fires his weapon just as Toledo drops the gun he was carrying behind a fence and turns around while raising his hands in the air. Stillman then quickly calls for an ambulance and begins performing CPR on the teen.

Listening to audio from right after the shooting, it’s clear Stillman tried to save the teen’s life. Foxx said there was no evidence of “criminal intent” by Stillman, though he may have violated the Chicago Police Department’s chase policy.

In the Alvarez shooting, officers approached the 22-year-old at a gas station on Mar. 31, 2021 because of a traffic infraction that happened the day before. The encounter escalated into a foot chase on North Laramie Avenue in Belmont-Cragin, and Officer Evan Solano shot Alvarez several times from behind. In footage from Solano’s body camera, a gun can be seen in Alvarez’s right hand, but the video never shows Alvarez pointing the weapon toward officers.

Solano reasonably believed his life was in danger, Foxx said. But all the officers involved, as Foxx noted, “created the conditions” that led to the shooting.

Why on earth, since they had Alvarez’s address, didn’t they simply go to his home to talk to him about the traffic violation? If they had, the shooting would not have happened.

Solano has avoided criminal charges in this case, but his history with CPD has plenty of red flags. Since he joined the police department in 2015, nearly a dozen investigations have been launched into his actions by CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, according to his personnel records obtained by the Sun-Times.

Which brings us to this point: No criminal charges should not mean no accountability.

Chicago cannot become a city in which two young men are killed by police, yet nothing changes for the better when it comes to policing and police-community relations.

If that happens, Chicago risks becoming a city with entire neighborhoods at perpetual odds with officers. The risk is especially high in communities of color, where mistrust of CPD is already high. That must change, on both sides.

“What did we learn as a city from this tragic incident? Operating like nothing happened will leave many people in the community, including myself, with great concern of other cases that happen like this,” as Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) told the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman following Foxx’s announcement. “To see these practices being normalized without any accountability is a great concern.”

The officers involved must be held accountable for any violations of CPD policy. It’s also imperative that CPD step on the accelerator with policing reform. That includes better training and clear policies on the use of force, as well as a system to ensure that officers with problematic records are either re-trained — or counseled out of the department.

The Toledo and Alvarez families have filed lawsuits against the city and the police department for the shootings. At some point, Chicago taxpayers may well get stuck with another hefty settlement bill down the road.

If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

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