CHICAGO – Disturbing bodycam video released Thursday after public outcry over the Chicago police shooting of a 13-year-old boy shows the youth appearing to drop a handgun and begin raising his hands less than a second before an officer fires his gun and kills him.
A still frame taken from Officer Eric Stillman's jumpy nighttime body camera footage shows that Adam Toledo wasn't holding anything and had his hands up when Stillman shot him once in the chest about 3 a.m. on March 29. Police, who were responding to reports of shots fired in the area, say the boy had a handgun on him before the shooting. And Stillman's footage shows him shining a light on a handgun on the ground near Toledo after he shot him.
The release of the footage and other investigation materials comes at a sensitive time, with the ongoing 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. Before the Civilian Office of Police Accountability posted the material on its website, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on the public to keep the peace and some downtown businesses boarded up their windows in the expectation that there could be unrest.
Small groups of protesters gathered at a police station and marched downtown Thursday night, but there were few signs of widespread demonstrations in the city.
“We live in a city that is traumatized by a long history of police violence and misconduct,” Lightfoot said. “So 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 are feeling that all too familiar surge of outrage and pain. It is even clearer that trust between our community and law enforcement is far from healed and remains badly broken.”
Nineteen seconds elapsed from when Stillman got out of his squad car to when he shot Toledo. His 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 between 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.
In a lengthy email, Stillman's attorney Tim Grace said Toledo left the officer no choice but to shoot.
“The juvenile offender had the gun in his right hand ... looked at the officer which could be interpreted as attempting to acquire a target and began to turn to face the officer attempting to swing the gun in his direction,” Grace wrote. “At this point the officer was faced with a life threatening and deadly force situation. All prior attempts to deescalate and gain compliance with all of the officer's lawful orders had failed."
But Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, an attorney for Toledo’s family, told reporters the footage and other videos “speak for themselves.”
Weiss-Ortiz said it's irrelevant whether Toledo was holding a gun before he turned toward the officer.
“If he had a gun, he tossed it," she said. “The officer said, 'Show me your hands.” He complied. He turned around.”
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson took a look at the bodycam clips from the incident.
“I have not seen a video that shows me he tossed the gun to the point where the officer would know he tossed the gun, and now his hands are empty,” Jefferson said. “So when he turns and the officer knew he had a gun in his hand, he made a split decision that -- I’ve got to survive this incident. I know he has a gun and he may turn that gun on me.”
Jefferson says the officers involved were already on high alert thanks to ShotSpotter recoding gunfire in the area.
“This is a young man and they don’t know his age. They just know they’re responding to shots being fires,” Jefferson said.
The Chicago Police Department typically doesn't release the names of officers involved in such shootings this early on in an investigation, but Stillman's name, age and race — he's 34 and white — were listed in the investigation reports released Thursday.
Weiss-Ortiz said that she looked into Stillman's record but found no prior disciplinary issues.
Lightfoot, who along with the police superintendent had called on the police accountability board to release the video, asked the public to remain calm but decried the city’s long history of police violence and misconduct, especially in Black and brown communities. She said too many young people are left vulnerable to “systemic failures that we simply must fix.”
Choking up at times, Lightfoot described watching the video footage as “excruciating.”
“As a mom, this is not something you want children to see,” she said.
In addition to posting Stillman's bodycam footage, the review board released footage from other bodycams, four third-party videos, two audio recordings of 911 calls, and six audio recordings from ShotSpotter, the technology that led police to respond to gunshots that morning in Little Village, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the city's southwest side.
Toledo, who was Hispanic, and a 21-year-old man fled on foot when confronted by police. The 21-year-old man was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
The review board, an independent board that investigates all shootings in Chicago involving police, initially said it couldn’t release the video because it showed the shooting of a minor, but the board changed course after the mayor and police superintendent asked for it to be made public.
Lucky Camargo, an activist and lifelong resident of Little Village, decided not to watch the video. But neighbors described it to her as “an execution.”
“This was wrong,” she said. “I didn’t need to watch the video to make that assessment on my own. I don’t feel there was any justification to shoot someone.”
Previous police shooting videos that went public have sparked major protests, including one released in 2015 showing a white officer shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. The officer was eventually convicted of murder.
Before the latest video's release, some businesses in downtown Chicago's “Magnificent Mile” shopping district boarded up their windows. Lightfoot said the city has been preparing for months for a verdict in the Chauvin trial and that it had activated a “neighborhood protection plan” ahead of Thursday's release.
“It happens now that these circumstances are sitting next to each other,” she said.
Adam's mother described him as a curious and goofy seventh grader who loved animals, riding his bike and junk food. The Toledo family issued a statement urging people to avoid violent protests.
“We pray that for the sake of our city, people remain peaceful to honor Adam’s memory and work constructively to promote reform,” the family said.
Lightfoot and attorneys for the family and city said that in addition to the release of the video, all investigation materials should be made public, including a slowed-down compilation of what happened that morning.
“We acknowledge that the release of this video is the first step in the process toward the healing of the family, the community and our city,” they said in a joint statement. “We understand that the release of this video will be incredibly painful and elicit an emotional response to all who view it, and we ask that people express themselves peacefully.”
Whether the officer is charged with a crime is up to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which gets the accountability board's report after it completes its investigation.
The Chicago Police Department has a long history of brutality and racism that has fomented mistrust among the city’s many Black and Hispanic residents. Adding to that mistrust is the city’s history of suppressing damning police videos.
The city fought for months to keep the public from seeing the 2014 video of a white officer shooting McDonald, and also tried to stop a TV news station from broadcasting video of a botched 2019 police raid in which an innocent, naked, Black woman wasn’t allowed to put on clothes until after she was handcuffed.
Associated Press writers Kathleen Foody and Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, contributed to this report.