Warning: Story describes graphic content.
CHICAGO – The mayor and city leaders appealed for calm Thursday as the city released body-camera videos of last month’s fatal shooting of Adam Toledo, 13, by a Chicago police officer – an incident that appears to show the boy unarmed as he attempts to surrender with his hands up.
According to one officer’s body-cam video, the officer pulls up in a car, gets out, pushes past another man and runs down an alley shouting “stop” toward Adam, who is dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt and white baseball cap.
As Adam slows down and pauses near a fence, the officer shouts, “Show me your f***ing hands.” Adam turns toward the officer and appears to put his hands up. He does not appear to have a gun in his hand. That’s when the officer shoots – less than 20 seconds after getting out of his car.
Adam clutches his chest and falls to the ground as the officers gets on his radio and says “Get an ambulance here now.”
“I need a medical kit … hurry up,” the officer shouts to other on the scene as Adam lies beneath him, his eyes open and bleeding from the mouth and chest. “Stay with me,” the officer says. About a minute after firing, the officer tells other officers he cannot feel a heartbeat and begins chest compressions.
The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability released 17 body-cam videos, 4 third-party videos, a transmission from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, two audio recordings of 911 calls, six ShotSpotter recordings, as well as response and arrest reports.
According to a response report, Adam was armed with a semi-automatic pistol that was “displayed, not used.”
“They are incredibly difficult to watch, particularly at the end,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said at a press conference before the videos were released, her voice cracking as she spoke. “No one should 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.
“Simply put, we failed Adam, and we cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city,” she said.
Protests have been planned in the city for Thursday evening, and Lightfoot urged residents to “proceed with deep empathy and calm, and most importantly, peace.” She asked Chicagoans to “reserve judgment” and “wait until we hear all the facts.”
Karina Ayala-Bermejo of Instituto del Progreso Latino, a nonprofit based in Adam’s neighborhood, called on Chicagoans to “embrace our children” and communities when the video is released. “I call for peace. I call for justice, but I also call for non-violence,” she said.
Ricardo Estrada of Metropolitan Family Services, who said he was raised five blocks from where Adam was killed, called on residents to give the family time to mourn. “Absolutely we need to call for justice,” he said. “But in our community, we have a nine days novena where we need to grieve. We need to allow this family to grieve.”
Lightfoot, the boy’s family and city officials have called for transparency. The Toledo family, after viewing the videos Tuesday night, requested the footage not be immediately released to the public, according to a statement by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates cases of potential police misconduct.
“The experience was extremely difficult and heartbreaking for everyone present and especially for Adam’s family,” family attorneys Adeena Weiss-Ortiz and Joel Hirschhorn said in a separate statement Tuesday night. But Thursday morning, the lawyers issued a joint statement with the mayor’s office, saying “both parties agree that all material should be released.”
The videos come amid rising tensions nationwide over fatal police shootings and deaths in police custody, including the shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just miles from where former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for the death of George Floyd.Lightfoot on Thursday acknowledged Wright’s killing and the trial “have only heightened feelings of pain and anger.”
Demonstrations in Chicago began last week as protesters from throughout the city gathered to demand police accountability in the deaths of Adam and Wright. Dozens marched through the city’s downtown Tuesday evening, and dozens more gathered Wednesday evening for a rally and march.
Asked about how Chicago was preparing for the release of the videos, Lightfoot said the city has “been preparing for the Chauvin trial for months now. And as part of those preparations, we have been in regular contact with businesses all across the city, not just in the downtown area.”
What police say happened in Adam Toledo’s killing
According to police, officers were dispatched to the Little Village neighborhood in the early hours of March 29 when the department’s ShotSpotter technology detected eight gunshots. When police arrived, Adam and 21-year-old Ruben Roman fled, authorities said.
An officer shot Adam once in the chest after an “armed confrontation” in an alley, police said. Prosecutors say the boy was holding a gun when the officer shot him. Adam died at the scene.
According to Lightfoot Thursday, the officer who shot Adam attempted to revive him and called for medical assistance. Asked whether Adam shot at an officer, she said: “I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that Adam Toledo shot at the police.”
Officials have not publicly identified the officer, who has been placed on administrative leave for 30 days.
Earlier this month, Lightfoot suggested Adam was holding a gun, saying “an adult put a gun in a child’s hand.” But on Thursday, Lightfoot’s phrasing changed, and she said Adam was “a child who was in contact with an adult who had a gun.”
Prosecutors say Roman was later seen on surveillance video firing the rounds that brought police to the scene before he and Adam fled. As Roman was arrested, another officer chased Adam.
On Saturday, Roman was held on a $150,000 bond and faces felony charges of unlawful use and reckless discharge of a firearm, as well as child endangerment and violating probation.
Lightfoot said in early April 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.
“It’s clear that trust between our communities and law enforcement has not healed and instead is badly broken,” Lightfoot said Thursday, recognizing Chicago’s long history of “police abuse.”
“While we don’t have enough information to be the judge and jury of this particular situation, it is certainly understandable why so many of our residents feel an all-too-familiar surge of outrage and pain,” she said.
Lightfoot also renewed calls for federal gun control legislation and said she would continue speaking with the Biden administration about closing loopholes and mandating background checks.
Asked Thursday what more the city could have done to prevent the shooting, Lightfoot said she doesn’t “presume to have an answer.” She said: “Our young people have been living with a lot of trauma for a long time.”
Family says Adam attended Gary Elementary School, was ‘loved and supported’
Adam was a “loved and supported 13-year-old boy” from a “close-knit family,” the family said in a statement through their lawyers earlier this month. 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.
Adam attended Gary Elementary School, where he had the support of his teachers and his classmates, the statement said. According to Chicago Public Schools, Gary is a high-rated school serving more than 900 students from third through eighth grade. Nearly 98% of students are Hispanic, and 95% are low income.
In the statement, the family said they wanted 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,” the statement said. “Adam was not alone.”
Community demands transparency: ‘She’ll never have her child back’
About a dozen protesters gathered at the city’s downtown Federal Plaza on Wednesday night to demand police accountability and justice for Adam. The crowd later grew to two dozen marching through the streets of downtown Chicago with a drummer leading.
Handfuls of police officers on bicycles flanked the crowd on either side as three police cars followed closely behind. A Black Lives Matter flag flew alongside a banner with a photo of Adam, the hashtag #justiceforadamtoledo, and the words “CPD stop killing our children.”
Little Village Community Council president Baltazar Enriquez started a lineup of speeches by asking Lightfoot to share “the truth of what happened” to Adam. “Today we ask for transparency,” he said.
Enriquez said the shooting is just further reason to abolish the police department and funnel its resources into social services.
Alma Sanchos, 33, said she was protesting for her 12-year-old daughter, who she says was friends with Adam. The two played video games together, she said. “Sometimes now I watch her just zoning out, and I know she’s thinking about him,” Sanchos said. “It’s just awful to be so young and have to think about these things like police brutality.”
Sanchos said that, as a mother, she could not imagine the grief Adam’s mother is experiencing. “There are no words,” she said. “She’ll never have her child back. Our children are supposed to be protected. They were supposed to protect them.”