Chicago officer who fatally wounded teen could be fired after civilian board investigation

Police Superintendent David Brown contested the findings, saying the shooting did not violate department use-of-force policies

By Annie Sweeney and Jeremy Gorner
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police officer who shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo during a foot chase in 2021 is facing firing after an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability concluded the shooting violated department policy.

COPA’s findings against Officer Eric Stillman were discussed Thursday night by the Chicago Police Board, as was the fact that police Chicago police Superintendent David Brown contested the findings, saying that the shooting did not violate department use-of-force rules.

Brown only agreed with COPA that Stillman violated department protocol for failing to operate his body camera in a timely manner, though the superintendent only recommended the officer be punished with a suspension of no more than five days.

Also at the meeting, Police Board President Ghian Foreman, who had been selected at random to review the case, announced that the controversial shooting has been referred for a public hearing before the entire police board.

“It is my opinion that … the parties and the public will benefit from a full evidentiary hearing on this matter,” Foreman wrote in his decision. "This hearing will allow the Board (to) hear from use-of-force experts … and will allow the Board to thoroughly review relevant evidence, including video recordings of the incident.”

Foreman stated in his ruling that he was neither siding with COPA nor Brown. But he also said that Brown did not meet his burden to overrule COPA.

“The Superintendent made a number of convincing points in his response to (COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten’s) recommendation for discipline,” Foreman wrote. “However, in this case, the material I reviewed does not provide a sufficient basis for me to rule that the Superintendent met the burden to overcome the recommendation. "

Foreman noted that the hearing will also grant Stillman the opportunity to testify. Foreman also made clear that he was not siding with COPA.

The hearing is not expected to take place for several months.

The March 29 shooting of Toledo in a Little Village alley at about 2:30 a.m. touched off waves of protests after disturbing images from officers’ body worn cameras were released.

In the footage, Toledo’s hands appear to be empty at the moment Stillman shoots him. Police confiscated a gun near Toledo, whom authorities said was with Ruben Roman, now 22, who had fired at a vehicle in the minutes before the shooting.

The shooting happened two days before another Chicago police officer shot and killed 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez in Portage Park, also in a foot chase.

In addition to questions over whether deadly force was warranted in the shootings, the incidents cast a glaring spotlight on the foot pursuits and the fact that Chicago police lacked a written policy on the dangerous, often deadly encounters.

The department has since written a policy around the chases. In both the Alvarez and Toledo shootings, COPA still found that the officers in both shootings “acted inconsistently” with their training in a foot pursuit training bulletin distributed by the police department.

The Police Board released findings on the Alvarez investigation in July. As they did in the Toledo case, COPA investigators concluded that the shooting of Alvarez violated the department’s use of force policy. They recommended that Officer Evan Solano, who shot Alvarez, be fired.

Brown also contested that decision. The police board member selected to review that case, however, concurred with Brown’s recommendation for a 20-day suspension and spared Solano’s job — without referring the case for a full hearing.

In March, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced her office would not bring criminal charges against the officers involved in the Alvarez and Toledo shootings. Foxx said at a news conference that prosecutors determined both officers reasonably believed they were in danger when they opened fire. Both Toledo and Alvarez were carrying guns on the nights they were shot.

Kersten, whose office was critical of the Alvarez case being decided by one police board member, issued a statement late Thursday in support of Foreman’s decision in Toledo’s shooting.

“As I’ve said before, this is not about winning or losing, but about facts, evidence and testimony being presented before the full Police Board before a final decision is determined,” the statement read. “Impacted parties and the residents of the city of Chicago deserve to have all the facts and evidence presented in a full, public hearing and we believe this case is deserving of a full evidentiary hearing before the entire Police Board and a review of the rules governing this process is warranted.”

The decision was criticized by Stillman’s attorney, who issued a statement.

“There is no reason or justification for the City of Chicago to have sought termination in this case,” attorney Tim Grace said in a written statement. “I am extremely disappointed with the Chicago Police Board tonight. They missed an opportunity to stand with the members of our police department who do the heavy lifting. Officer Stillman is an honorably discharged (United) States Marine who has served his country and city with honor and courage and will face this next challenge in the same manner.”

Also in a prepared statement, the Toledo family’s lawyers praised COPA for “uncovering the truth of what transpired” in the shooting, and thanked Foreman for not rejecting COPA’s findings.

“We are relieved COPA has come to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified, which is consistent with our understanding of the facts,” the lawyers, Adeena Weiss Ortiz and Joe Hirschhorn, said in a statement. “We will now be moving forward with the next step in this process for Adam Toledo and his family.”

©2022 Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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