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Chicago mayor calls for new foot pursuit policy after fatal OIS

The call comes four years after a DOJ recommendation that Chicago Police adopt a foot pursuit policy

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.jpg

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

AP Photo/Jim Young

By Jeremy Gorner and Gregory Pratt
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for a new foot-pursuit policy to be implemented by the Chicago Police Department before the start of summer after a city cop shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo last week following a chase.

On Monday, Lightfoot also called for an investigation into how the boy came into possession of a gun, saying an adult gave a weapon to a child and must be held accountable.

“This is a complicated story. It’s not my story to tell, particularly not as our understanding of the facts is evolving,” Lightfoot said. “What I do know and what I will say is Ms. Toledo and her family need our love and support in this moment, not our withering judgment.”

Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown spoke at New Life Church in Little Village, as part of an event aimed at calming the city ahead of the video’s eventual release.

“This is a tragedy. The most tragic of circumstances,” Brown said. “Let’s not make it worse by rushing to judgment.”

He focused his remarks on why officials didn’t divulge Adam’s age or identity publicly for three days after the shooting. Brown added to information already provided by the police department on Friday by saying that on March 26, Adam’s mother walked into the Ogden District station, reported him missing at 6:58 p.m. and the information was entered in a police database at 7:18 p.m.

The next day, a detective followed up with Adam’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, who then indicated he returned home and her son’s name was removed from police department records as him being missing, Brown said.

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After Adam was killed, a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, was arrested at the scene. Brown said he provided police with a different name for the teen who was shot — eventually identified as Adam — and was charged with misdemeanor resisting or obstructing a peace officer.

“And we lost considerable time trying to identify Adam because of the wrong name,” said Brown.”

Brown said police fingerprinted Adam three times and found no records for him. Investigators combed through missing persons reports from the Ogden District, where the shooting occurred, and on the North Side, as well as reports of missing people who were eventually found safe, said Brown.

On Wednesday, two days after Adam’s death, police contacted Adam’s mother at about 1 p.m. and told her a description of her son matched that of an unidentified person at the Cook Cook County medical examiner’s office, Brown said. His mother at that point said she had not seen her son for several days, and she identified him at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the medical examiner’s office.

“Ms. Toledo had not made a second missing-persons report,” Brown said. “So, no report was on file for the second time Adam left home.”

It wasn’t until Thursday when the medical examiner’s office and the police department first acknowledged publicly that Adam Toledo was 13, making him the youngest person fatally shot by Chicago police in years.

He was fatally shot in the chest at about 2:30 a.m. March 29 in a Little Village neighborhood alley near 24th Street and Sawyer Avenue by an on-duty officer responding to a call of shots fired in the area.

Lightfoot’s call for police policy changes comes four years after the U.S. Justice Department recommended in a report about CPD’s practices that it adopt a foot pursuit policy. None has been put into place despite concerns about how dangerous foot pursuits can be for the officers and the public.

A Chicago Tribune investigation in 2016 found that foot chases played a role in more than a third of the 235 police shooting cases in the city from 2010 through 2015 that ended with someone wounded or killed. In 2017, the Justice Department’s investigation into Chicago’s police practices noted that foot pursuits are “inherently dangerous and present substantial risks to officers and the public.”

[READ: How to reduce risk and improve tactical decision-making during pursuits and other critical events]

During Brown’s tenure as the Dallas police chief from 2010 to 2016, that department developed a foot pursuit policy for officers following a controversial officer-involved shooting in 2012. At the time, that policy required Dallas police officers to not engage suspects alone during foot chases, but the policy was relaxed a few years later.

In 2018, Lightfoot criticized the draft of a court-ordered consent decree the Chicago Police Department now finds itself under for saying a determination on whether a new policy was needed could wait until 2021. Speaking Monday, Lightfoot said a foot pursuit policy can’t be pushed off “for another day” though she didn’t address why she hadn’t prioritized the issue in the nearly two years since she became mayor.

But, she said, CPD established guidelines for foot pursuits in February. Last month, the consent decree’s independent monitor completed an assessment of data related to Chicago Police foot pursuits and determined that the department should adopt a foot pursuit policy.

The monitor found that foot pursuits in which officers used force that did or could have resulted in death had increased since the previous review — up from 3% to 7.7%.

The report examined the period between March and December 2020.

The more times such force is used, “the more times people are at risk of being killed by police,” said Nusrat Choudhury, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Choudhury added that the community has been demanding these kinds of changes for years.

“This is not an issue coming out of nowhere,” Choudhury said. “It is at the heart of what communities have been calling on for years.”

Last week, the police department first released some details of Adam’s shooting, including that he was believed to have had a gun during the fatal encounter with the officer. On Friday, the Toledo family’s lawyer said that detail surprises Adam’s family.

“At this time, the family doesn’t have all the information,” the lawyer, Adeena Weiss Ortiz, told reporters Friday afternoon outside her law office in west suburban La Grange Park. “And they are encouraging the full cooperation of (the Civilian Office of Police Accountability) and the Chicago Police Department, and transparency in obtaining the video as soon as possible as mentioned by our mayor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot.”

Weiss Ortiz didn’t have any information about the canceled missing-persons report. But she mentioned that Adam’s mother, Elizabeth Toledo, has been getting “messages from the community” about her being judged for what happened to her son, who had four other siblings and was a 7th grader at Gary Elementary School in Little Village.

“She wants to let you know that she was a full-time mom and a homemaker to five children, ages 11 to 24,” Weiss Ortiz said Friday of Adam’s mother.

COPA, which is investigating whether the officer who pulled the trigger was justified in shooting Adam, will likely show video footage of the shooting to the Toledo family later this week.

It’s unclear when the footage will be released publicly, but according to city policy, video of police-involved shootings, as well as the accompanying paperwork, must be made public within 60 days of the incident, unless officials request a 30-day extension after that.

Initially last week, COPA said it would be prohibited from releasing video of the shooting because Toledo was a minor and publicizing the footage would violate the state’s Juvenile Court Act. But on Friday, COPA announced there were legal avenues that allow the agency to release the video, deviating from a long-standing policy to withhold video of fatal police shootings of minors.

The ongoing fallout over Toledo’s shooting reflects heightened national focus to the issue of police accountability and community outrage over police killings across the country. It also comes as former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for murder in the death of George Floyd last year.

For Lightfoot, it also reflects a lesson learned from the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which was dogged by accusations of a cover up after city officials declined to release video of a white police officer murdering Black teenager Laquan McDonald. Lightfoot also faced controversy over her administration repeatedly refusing to release video of a wrongful raid on social worker Anjanette Young’s home, even after Young herself requested it.

Lightfoot also had falsely denied that her administration withheld footage of the raid from Young, before reversing course and acknowledging Young had filed an open records request, which the city did not grant.

The mayor previously said her administration’s handling of the crisis led to a breach in trust between her and the public.

(The Chicago Tribune’s Annie Sweeney contributed to this report.)