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Mayor, community call for release of video after 13-year-old boy killed by officer in what police called an ‘armed confrontation’

The boy’s mother said she wants answers about the death of her son, who she said wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.

Approximate location where Chicago police killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo (shown in photo), in an alleyway near 24th and Sawyer
The approximate location where Chicago police killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo (shown in photo), in an alleyway near 24th and Sawyer, Thursday, April 1, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times, Provided

After police shot and killed a 13-year-old boy in what officials described as an “armed confrontation” in Little Village early Monday, everyone from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to community activists to the boy’s neighbors on Thursday called for the release of videos that could shed light on what happened.

The boy’s mother also said she wants answers about the death of her son, who she said wanted to be a police officer someday.

“He wanted to be a cop when he grew up,” Elizabeth Toledo told the Sun-Times of her son, Adam. “And next thing you know, a cop took his life.”

The Cook County medical examiner said Adam, 13, was shot in his chest and later died in the incident, which took place in an alley west of the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue.

In a statement, police said officers responded to a ShotSpotter alert about 2:35 a.m. that morning and saw two males. One person, who was allegedly armed, ran from the scene and was shot by an officer during the “armed confrontation,” police said.

Police shared a photo of a gun allegedly recovered at the scene.

Elizabeth Toledo and her son Adam are pictured in this family photo.
Elizabeth Toledo and her son Adam are pictured in this family photo.
Provided

That person, later identified as Adam, died at the scene, police said. Adam’s mother identified him at the county morgue Wednesday after filing a missing person report with police.

The other person who ran from police, 21-year-old Ruben Roman Jr. of Edgewater, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, police said. In 2019, Roman pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession stemming from an arrest in Evanston and was sentenced to probation, court records show.

Elizabeth Toledo said in a phone interview Thursday that she doesn’t know what happened to her son, who she last saw Sunday when they attended a memorial service for a relative who died.

She said she “just wants answers about what really happened.”

“I haven’t heard from cops since yesterday when they knocked on my door,” said Toledo, 44.

Authorities said the family lives in the 2700 block of South Millard Avenue, which is less than a mile from the scene of the shooting.

The approximate location where Chicago police killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo, in an alley near 24th and Sawyer.
The approximate location where Chicago police killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo, in an alley near 24th and Sawyer.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

COPA researching whether it can release video

The officer in Monday’s incident was placed on desk duty for 30 days while the Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigates the shooting, police said.

The shooting was captured by body-worn camera, but it wasn’t immediately clear if investigators would release it.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, COPA said while it is required to release body camera video of police shootings within 60 days of the incident, policy prohibits them from sharing video if the victim is under 18 years old. Without a court order, the video would not be released, the statement said.

Later, COPA said it was “currently making every effort and researching all legal avenues that will allow for the public release of all video materials. ... COPA has been in contact with the Toledo family and will provide the family a review of all video materials.”

Matthew Topic, a Chicago attorney who specializes in cases involving public records and has represented the Sun-Times, said courts “have repeatedly rejected” the argument that videos of police shootings involving minors can be shielded from disclosure under Illinois’ Juvenile Court Act.

Investigators will release other evidence including 911 calls, police reports and radio transmissions within 60 days, COPA said.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said she “can only imagine the incredible pain this boy’s parents are experiencing at this moment. My heart goes out to them.”

She said while the case was still under investigation, “we must ask ourselves how our social safety net failed this boy leading to the tragic events in the early hours of Monday morning. While the investigation is ongoing, it is critically important that COPA releases relevant videos first to the family, and then to the public, as quickly as possible with appropriate protections given his age.”

Police Supt. David Brown said the shooting was “tragic” and “adamantly” called for the release of videos.

“My greatest fear as the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department has been a deadly encounter between one of our own and a juvenile especially given the recent rise in violent crimes involving juveniles throughout our city,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, this fear became a reality earlier this week.”

‘Very disheartening’

Adam’s mom said the family moved to Little Village in November. The boy attended Gary Elementary School on 31st Street.

“He was always happy. He loved animals. He was loving to all his siblings,” she said.

Near the scene of the incident on Thursday, which took place behind Farragut Career Academy High School, residents gathered for a yard sale and formed a line along 24th Street where a local church was holding a food drive.

A surveillance video taken from a camera at Amor de Dios United Methodist Church, which is at the corner of 24th and Sawyer, caught flashes of light from the shooting and additional police officers as they arrived on the scene. However, neither the officer who fired the shots nor Adam could be seen in the video.

Ramiro Rodriguez, Pastor of Amor De Dios United Methodist Church at 24th and Sawyer, speaks to reporters outside his church, Thursday, April 1, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Pastor Ramiro Rodríguez, who lives in the 2300 block of South Sawyer, said his son heard the gunshots early Monday morning but neither witnessed the incident.

“I feel for the kids around here,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “ ... What happened here is not what we want, we want the best for our families and for our youth.”

Rodriguez said he does not know Adam or his family, but said he turned over the security footage to detectives.

Many at the food drive expressed shock to hear that the person gunned down by police behind their homes was so young. Nakia Smith, a mother of a 13-year-old boy herself, said she heard gunshots early that morning, which were followed moments later by a swarm of blue lights.

“It’s very disheartening, especially with what happened a year ago, with the [Derek] Chauvin trial and everything,” Smith said, referring to the Minneapolis officer who is currently on trial in the murder of George Floyd. “And then Monday morning, come to find out it was a 13-year-old boy killed ... it’s just quite a bit.”

She added: “I do understand that the police don’t always know what someone is going to do, but there has to be a better way.”

Meanwhile, Rafael Hurtado Jr., 30 — who said he lives a few houses down from where the medical examiner said Adam lived — urged the release of video footage related to the shooting.

“It’s hard to take CPD’s word for it” that he was armed, he said. “Especially with everything that’s been going on with the police shootings in other places.”

He said that “it’s tragic for everyone involved, for the family, for the kid because he was so young and for the officer who pulled the trigger.”

Activists skeptical of police version

Anthony Gonzalez, an organizer with the community group Mi Villita Neighbors, said he was personally “shocked because it is like when does the violence from police end?”

He was skeptical of the police version of events.

“I don’t think we know the full story but we can’t take the police’s word for it,” he said.

A weapon was recovered after person was shot by police and another was arrested March 29. 2021 in Little Village.
Police say a weapon was recovered at the scene where a 13-year-old was shot by police on March 29. 2021 in Little Village.
Chicago police

But local Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who said he has many unanswered questions about the shooting, said “COPA has told me that the gun was found near his body.”

Cardenas urged Little Village residents to keep their cool and “wait for the facts to play out.”

“We’re trying to keep the peace and keep everybody as informed as possible so that people don’t jump to conclusions until all the facts are born out,” he said. “I urge the community to be patient for COPA to do its work. We have challenges in Little Village. The community has reported many shootings in that area. ... I pray for our young people in harm’s way. There are so many incidents we battle on a daily basis.”

Two other people have been shot by Chicago police officers this week. Early Wednesday, an officer fatally shot an armed man in Portage Park after officers chased the man on foot. An officer fired shots after the man allegedly pulled out a gun in the 5200 block of West Eddy Street, police said.

Less than an hour later, an off-duty Chicago police officer shot someone breaking into their home in Albany Park on the Northwest Side. The officer shot the man in his face about 12:55 a.m. as the man broke into the officer’s home in the 3100 block of Belle Plaine Avenue, police said. The man was rushed in serious condition to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Contributing: Cindy Hernandez, Frank Main, Tom Schuba

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