CHICAGO (AP) — Newly released video that shows a Chicago police officer fatally shoot a 13-year-old will be key evidence when prosecutors consider a case against the officer and are confronted with both the emotions surrounding the chilling footage and legal precedent that makes it difficult to bring charges against law enforcement.
Video of last month’s encounter was released Thursday and provoked an outpouring of grief and outrage. It shows Officer Eric Stillman shooting Adam Toledo less than a second after the boy drops a handgun, turns toward Stillman and begins raising his hands.
Some viewers have called for Stillman to be charged or fired. But for others, the video shows how difficult such decisions might be for prosecutors and police higher-ups, with an officer making a quick decision to shoot after chasing a suspect down a dark alley while responding to a report about gunshots.
Whether Stillman is charged will be up to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which will get the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s report after the independent board completes its investigation.
Several legal experts said Friday that they don’t think Stillman could be charged under criteria established by a landmark 1989 Supreme Court ruling on the use of force by police, though another said prosecutors might see enough evidence to justify an involuntary manslaughter charge and let a jury decide guilt or innocence.
The killing of Toledo, who was Latino, by Stillman, who is white, adds to already-heightened tension over policing in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S., particularly in Black and Latino communities. The videos and other investigative materials were released against the backdrop of the trial in Minneapolis of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd and the recent police killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, in one of that city’s suburbs.
Around a thousand people gathered Friday evening in a park on Chicago’s northwest side, some holding signs that read, “stop killing kids” and “CPD can’t be re-formed.” A brass band played music as the crowd chanted, “no justice, no peace”.
Dulce Rodriguez, 34, held a sign that read, “We are Adam Toledo”. Her 5-year-old daughter, Vida waved a large Mexican flag.
“That could’ve been anybody’s kid,” said Rodriquez, who lost a cousin to gun violence last June. She said police entice gun violence in under-resourced neighborhoods like where she lives.
“We do better when they’re not there,” she said.
Although Mayor Lori Lightfoot implored the public to keep the peace and allow the police review board to complete its investigation, some had already made up their minds about what happened to Toledo, whose mother described him as a curious and goofy seventh grader who loved animals, riding his bike and junk food.
Speaking Friday on the floor of the Illinois House, state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez, who lives four blocks from where Toledo died, called the killing a “murder” and expressed frustration at what he described as a too-familiar pattern of police abuse.
“So if you put your hands up, they shoot. If you put your hands down, they shoot. If you walk, you run, you hide, you sleep, you do exactly as they say, they still shoot,” Gonzalez said. “So I ask the members of this chamber, what are we supposed to do?”
When asked about the video Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it “chilling” and a reminder that across the country, “law enforcement uses unnecessary force too often, resulting in the death of Black and brown Americans.” She said she didn’t know if President Joe Biden had watched it.
Stillman was responding with other officers to reports of shots fired in Little Village, a predominantly Hispanic, working class neighborhood of the city’s southwest side, at around 3 a.m. on March 29. Nineteen seconds elapsed from when Stillman got out of his squad car to when he shot Toledo. His jumpy, nighttime bodycam footage shows him chasing Toledo on foot down an alley for several seconds and yelling “Police! Stop! Stop right (expletive) now!”
As the teen slows down, Stillman yells “Hands! Hands! Show me your (expletive) hands!”
Toledo then turns toward the camera, Stillman yells “Drop it!” and midway through repeating that command, he opens fire and Toledo falls down. While approaching the wounded boy, Stillman radios in for an ambulance. He can be heard imploring Toledo to “stay awake,” and as other officers arrive, an officer says he can’t feel a heartbeat and begins administering CPR.