A police watchdog agency Thursday released a video showing a Chicago police officer shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, whose seemingly empty hands were raised — but who appeared to have a gun in his hand just a moment earlier.
The officer who shot Adam was wearing a body camera that shows him chasing the teen down an alley in Little Village at about 2:38 a.m. on March 29. The officer orders him to stop and show his hands.
A slow-motion version of the video from that body camera shows Adam standing sideways in a large gap in a wooden fence with what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The officer is on the other side of the alley. He yells, “Drop it!”
In less than a second, Adam raises his hands as the officer fires.
Adam crumples to the ground, and the officer calls for an ambulance and performs CPR.
The officer’s video doesn’t show Adam throwing away a gun, and the boy doesn’t appear to be holding a weapon in his raised hands.
But another video shows him apparently throwing something through a gap in the fence to the other side — and a video shows an officer discovering a handgun there.
After the shooting, the officer asks, “You alright? Where you shot?” and then “stay with me” and starts doing chest compressions on Adam.
Another officer’s body-camera video shows 21-year-old Ruben Roman, the man who was with Adam that morning, on the ground in the alley and getting handcuffed.
The Chicago Police Department gave reporters an advance look at the video and other surveillance videos from the neighborhood before the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released them to the public Thursday afternoon. One version of the officer’s body-camera video was played in slow motion.
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney for the Toledo family, said they’re exploring legal action against the officer who shot Adam.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” Ortiz said.
Asked about the slowed-down video of the shooting, she acknowledged Adam appeared to have something that “could be a gun,” but said the video must be independently analyzed to know for sure.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
Adam’s family is calling for peace, she added, because they don’t want to “compound this tragedy, inflaming emotions or inciting violence,” she said.
John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the officer was justified.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Tim Grace, an attorney for the officer, argued that he shouldn’t be charged “and I don’t think he will be charged. There’s always that chance that Kim Foxx will make a different decision and will do what is politically expedient in her view.
“I don’t know how you can charge a cop who was put in his situation. [Adam Toledo] had a gun and was turning with the gun. The officer had no back up and he did what he needed to do when fearing for his life. He is justified in his actions.”
‘People deserve answers’
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Thursday called for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction,” she said, adding, ”The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which reviews police shootings to determine if they comply with police policy and state law, hasn’t issued any findings in the case.
Adam’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, had viewed the video Tuesday at the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. She asked the agency to withhold the video from the public, but the agency said it was legally obligated to release it.
Toledo didn’t talk to reporters after seeing the video, but a lawyer for the family said the experience was “difficult and heartbreaking.”
An hour before the video was released Thursday, the Rev. Ramiro Rodriguez of Amor De Dios United Methodist Church at 2356 S. Sawyer Ave. was mowing the lawn around a memorial for Adam. When he saw the video, he thought of his own kids.
“They grew up here, and it’s thanks to God they didn’t have any problems,” he said in Spanish. “But now I have grandchildren who are growing up and they come to visit me happily and I don’t want anyone to do that to them. It would break my heart.”
As a vehicle drove by blasting “F--k the police” by rap group NWA, 69-year-old Francisco Herrera of Berwyn choked up when he remembered the time his own child was shot by police in Cicero.
“As a dad, I’ve lived through this. It’s really hard,” Herrera said.
Officer subject of complaints, commendations
The 34-year-old officer who shot Adam joined the force in 2015, according to police sources.
The Invisible Institute’s website, which tracks police discipline, shows three complaints against the officer, alleging improper searches. One case was deemed unfounded, another was closed with “no finding” and a third is pending, according to the website.
The officer is a recipient of the superintendent’s award of tactical excellence and 47 other commendations, and he has a military background. The Sun-Times isn’t naming him because he isn’t officially accused of wrongdoing.
Adam was killed after officers responded to a ShotSpotter gunshot detector alert and saw two people in an alley in the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue, authorities say. A surveillance video released Thursday shows two people firing at a vehicle after it passed them on the street.
Police have said only that Adam was in an “armed confrontation” with an officer. They also released a photo of a handgun they say he was carrying.
In a court hearing Saturday, a Cook County prosecutor provided more details about the shooting, saying an officer confronted Adam at an opening in a fence. The officer asked Adam to show his hands and the teenager, who stood with his left side to the officer, lowered his right hand.
When the officer ordered Adam to “drop it,” he turned to the officer with the gun in his right hand and the officer shot him, the prosecutor said.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office didn’t mention Saturday that Adam’s hands were raised when he was shot.
On Thursday, the office said the prosecutor “failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court. Errors like that cannot happen and this has been addressed with the individual involved. The video speaks for itself.”
In the weeks since Adam was killed, the Chicago Police Department has been on alert for possible retaliation by the Latin Kings street gang against police officers, according to department documents and sources. The area where Adam was shot is considered to be a Latin Kings stronghold.
According to prosecutors, Adam was hanging out with Roman, who was on probation for a gun offense. Roman is now charged with child endangerment, reckless discharge of a firearm and illegal gun possession in the incident.
At a court hearing for Roman on Saturday, a prosecutor said officers were responding to a gunshot detector that went off because Roman was shooting at a passing car. During a foot chase, Roman dropped red gloves, and tests determined they were covered with gunshot residue, the prosecutor said. Adam had gunshot residue on his right hand, the prosecutor said.
COPA changes policy on videos
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s decision to release body-camera videos, police radio transmissions and other evidence in the case represents a change from when the controversial video of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald was released in 2015. In the McDonald case, a judge had ordered the release of the video.
That video depicted McDonald wounded on the street without medical attention for at least a minute.
Public outcry over the video led to a federal court order requiring sweeping reforms in the Chicago Police Department, which is continuing to put them in place slowly under the eye of a court-appointed monitor.
Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald 16 times as he wielded a knife, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than six years in prison.
Contributing: Jon Seidel, Matthew Hendrickson, David Struett and Cindy Hernandez