CHICAGO—Residents of the West Side neighborhood where 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot last month were visibly shaken on Thursday after police released a huge trove of videos, including body-camera footage, showing an officer fatally shooting the boy with his hands in the air.
“It felt like someone ripped my childhood from my heart. And that is what they did to Adam, they took away his childhood,” said Kristian Armendariz, 23, a painter and lifelong Little Village resident.
“I have no words to describe how I feel.”
Armendariz had joined with other activists gathered at 26th St. and Central Park Ave late Thursday to hold up banners demanding justice for Toledo.
“There was no need to shoot a 13 year-old,” said Monica Sanchez, 21. “He was just a little kid. He still had a life to live. It’s devastating to see how the cops here treat Hispanic people.”
She said she had to fight back tears after watching the gut-wrenching video of Toledo’s death.
“We should do better with our children, not just the individual parents, but as an entire community.”
Protesters took to the streets on Thursday night to keep the pressure on over Toledo’s death. Several dozen demonstrators marched from Union Park to a Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, where they were met by a line of police officers on bikes.
“Why did you kill a child?” the crowd chanted amid the ensuing standoff.
Riot police in helmets showed up about fifteen minutes later, and the line of officers on bikes moved to the side as protesters continued to chant.
Toledo was shot dead on March 29 in what police described at the time as an “armed confrontation.” Videos released Thursday afternoon by Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) include 17 body-cam videos, four third-party videos, and a slowed-down version of the events. Two 911 calls, the case incident report, and the tactical response reports were also released.
One video, taken from the body-cam of the officer who shot Toledo— identified in the incident report as Officer Eric Stillman—shows the teen with both hands up at the moment he is shot once in the chest.
“Police! Stop! Police, stop right fucking now,” Stillman is heard saying as he chases Toledo down an alley. Toledo then stops, turns around, and puts both hands up as the cop yells, “Show me your fucking hands, drop it.”
A split second later, Toledo is shot—and falls backward. It does not appear from the footage that the teenager had anything in his hands when he was shot—despite claims from police and prosecutors that he was armed at the time.
About two minutes later, the body-camera footage shows another officer shining a flashlight on a gun located a few feet ahead of Toledo. It’s not clear if the gun is Toledo’s, or if he was holding it at any time during the chase or shooting.
Tensions have already been at a boiling point across the country following the police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot became emotional in a Thursday press conference as she said the videos were “incredibly difficult to watch.” She noted that there’s no “evidence whatsoever that Adam Toledo shot at the police.”
“I want to ask again that everyone tuning in right now to think first and foremost about Adam Toledo...that each of us give [his family] space to breathe,” Lightfoot said, choking up at times. She urged people to wait until we “hear all the facts” and railed against the the city’s gun problem.
“We failed Adam,” she said. “We cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city.”
Authorities say a chaotic chain of events led to the March 29 shooting on the city’s West Side. Several gunshots were detected at around 2:30 a.m and when officers arrived Toledo was there with 21-year-old Ruben Roman. Both of them took off running, police say.
Roman was tackled and arrested, while Toledo kept running and was pursued down the alley by Officer Stillman. (Roman was later charged with child endangerment, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and reckless discharge of a firearm for his role in that night’s fateful events.)
In their initial statement, Chicago Police said an armed person ran from the scene, prompting officers to start a foot pursuit that ended with an “armed confrontation.” The statement said a gun was recovered from the scene.
During a hearing for Roman over the weekend, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said the footage showed that Toledo did stop but refused to show his hands and turned towards the officer with a gun. He said the gun landed a few feet away after Toledo was shot in the chest.
On Thursday, however, a spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the prosecutor’s account was inaccurate, and the prosecutor was not “fully informed.”
“An attorney who works in this office failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court,” the spokesperson said. “Errors like that cannot happen and this has been addressed with the individual involved. The video speaks for itself.”
The body-camera footage also shows Toledo with both hands raised as he’s shot. Stillman approaches Toledo afterwards to ask if he is all right before repeating, “Stay with me. Stay with me.” A slew of officers arrive on the scene and perform CPR until an ambulance arrives.
“Adam, during his last second of life, did not have a gun in his hand. The officer screamed at him, ‘Show me your hands.’ Adam complied, turned around, his hands were empty when he was shot in the chest at the hands of the officer. He did not have a gun in his hand,” Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney representing the Toledo family, said during a Thursday news conference after the video was released.
She said she didn’t know if Toledo had a gun at some point during the incident but, even if he did, “it is not relevant, because he tossed the gun” and complied.
Prosecutors say footage and shell casings show the 9 mm Ruger found at the scene was being fired by Roman on a street corner earlier in the night.
Tim Grace, a lawyer for Stillman, said his client believed Toledo was armed during the fast-moving incident.
“There is irrefutable evidence that the shell casings recovered from [the corner where Toledo and Roman were standing] match the handgun that was in the hands of the juvenile when he was tragically shot by the officer,” he said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
He said the officer “was faced with a life threatening and deadly force situation” and was “left with no other option” but to use his firearm after Toledo stopped in the alley “and began to turn to face the officer attempting to swing the gun in his direction.”
“The officer had no place to take cover or concealment, the gun was being (orientated) in his direction and he was left with no other option,” he said.
According to updated data from the Citizens Police Data Project, a non-profit that documents police misconduct information about the Chicago Police Department, Stillman received three complaints and four use-of-force reports from 2017 to 2020.
The shooting has shaken the community and sparked a spate of protests, but the Toledo family has called for calm. “Adam’s memory can best be honored by refraining from violence and working constructively for reform,” attorneys for the family said Tuesday.
After watching the body-cam footage late Tuesday, the family vowed to “seek justice” by carrying out their own independent investigation.
Lightfoot said Thursday that the videos of the incident make two things clear: that in the middle of the night Toledo was “in contact with an adult who had a gun” and that “too many young people in our city... have been left vulnerable by system failures that we simply must fix.”
She also blamed the city’s systemic issues of generational poverty, disinvestment, and racism as having a role in the boy’s death.
Cook County prosecutors have so far sought to place blame for the seventh-grader’s death on Roman.
“If the defendant does not bring the 13-year-old with him, if he doesn’t bring his gun with him while on gun offender probation, if he doesn’t shoot that gun seven to eight times on a city street with (Toledo) standing in arm’s length of him while he’s firing those shots … none of it would have happened,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy argued in court.
Roman was initially released from custody on a misdemeanor charge but was taken back in after ditching a court hearing in a separate case. He reportedly told police he didn’t know who Toledo was and claimed he’d been waiting in the alley for a train.
It’s not clear how Roman and Toledo knew each other. Toledo’s mother, Elizabeth, told The Chicago Sun-Times she “just wants answers about what really happened.”
“He wanted to be a cop when he grew up. And next thing you know, a cop took his life,” she said.