CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday called for reforms to how police pursue suspects on foot and urged a “thorough, expeditious” investigation into the death of a 13-year-old boy who was shot by a Chicago police officer last week.
But hours later, the family of Adam Toledo – who dreamed of becoming a police officer and was killed March 29 after police chased him into an alley – said they still hadn’t see the police body-cam video of the incident and were “concerned” by officials’ “hurtful and false mischaracterization” of Adam.
“We have requested expedited meetings with pertinent authorities to obtain evidence and to review the police body camera footage and other available video. To date, we have not received confirmation of a time to view the footage,” the family said in a statement through their attorneys, Adeena Weiss Ortiz and Joel Hirschhorn.
Tensions remain high across the city as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability prepares to release what it called “troubling video footage” of the shooting.
Lightfoot said the tragedy emphasizes the need to change Chicago police foot pursuit policy, saying such pursuits are one of the most dangerous activities police engage in because they are often separated from their partners and communication becomes difficult. She said there will be focus groups of officers and community members to evaluate best practices.
“We cannot and will not push the foot pursuit reform off for another day,” Lightfoot said at a news conference at New Life Church on the city’s West Side. “No longer can we afford to put off to tomorrow what we can address today, because lives are truly at stake.”
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Lightfoot also said she spoke briefly with Adam’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, to offer her condolences and thanked Adam’s family for their “passionate call for peace.”
“Let us not forget that a mother’s child is dead,” she said. “Siblings are without their brother. And this community is again grieving.”
Over the weekend, Adam’s family asked for calm amid reports that gang factions in the city have been instructed to retaliate by shooting at unmarked police cars.
On Thursday, police said they issued an “officer safety alert” and said the Narcotics Division had received information about retaliation.
“No one has anything to gain by inciting violence,” Elizabeth 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.”
Officials did not elaborate on the reports Monday.
“My hope is that these gang members aren’t foolish enough to do something,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago police officer placed on administrative duty after fatal ‘armed confrontation’ with 13-year-old boy
Police say officers were dispatched to a largely Latino neighborhood in the city’s West Side on March 29 after the department’s ShotSpotter technology detected eight gunshots. When police arrived, Adam and a 21-year-old man fled, according to Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown.
There was an “armed confrontation” during which the officer shot Adam once in the chest, police said. He died at the scene. The 21-year-old man was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
Brown said one person was armed with a handgun but did not say whose gun it was.
Lightfoot, however, suggested that Adam had the gun.
“We will find the person who put the gun in Adam’s hand,” Lightfoot said. “An adult put a gun in a child’s hand, a young impressionable child who should not be provided with lethal force.”
In their statement, the Toledo family said they appreciated the condolences from city and neighborhood leaders but said they were “concerned by presumptions, implications, and statements made today that are not supported by the facts made public so far.”
“We are unable to refute or respond to these statements until we obtain the evidentiary facts, which so far are known only to the police,” the statement said. “We do, however, want to correct the hurtful and false mischaracterization of Adam as a lonely child of the street who had no one to turn to. This is simply not true.”
Adam was a “loved and supported 13-year-old boy” from a “close-knit family,” the statement said. He lived with his mother, his 90-year-old grandfather and two of his siblings, and his father was in his life, the statement said. He attended Gary Elementary School where he had the support of his teachers and his classmates.
“Adam was not alone,” the statement said.
The officer who shot Adam, whose identity has not yet been released, has been placed on administrative leave for 30 days, which Brown said is “routine protocol.”
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, initially said it was prohibited from releasing the video because Adam is a minor. But the agency changed course on Friday, saying state law “does not bar publication of the body worn and third-party video camera footage the agency has obtained.” Brown said COPA would have the the police department’s full cooperation.
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The city has a troubled history of trying to suppress video, including in the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The officer who shot the Black teenager 16 times eventually was convicted of murder.
Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown urged release of the video.
“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,” Brown said.
City policy requires public posting of material no later than 60 days after the incident, but COPA said it would release the video shortly after the Toledo family has a chance to view it.
The Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago said video evidence would show the shooting was justified.
“The officer was absolutely shaken by the circumstances of which happened that night because a life was taken,” union president John Catanzara said in a video statement. “But it was justified. The offender was fleeing from the police with a weapon. It’s irregardless that he was 13 years old.”
A GoFundMe page has raised almost $50,000 for the family. Dozens of community members gathered for a vigil with a balloon release Monday evening in the Little Village neighborhood where Adam died, and some began marching in the street afterward.
“Adam had many dreams that he will never get to live out,” Elizabeth Toledo wrote on the page. “Ironically one of his dreams was to become a police officer.”
Contributing: Grace Hauck; The Associated Press
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