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Attorney For Adam Toledo's Family: 'Adam Died Because He Complied'

Demonstrators attend a peace walk on Sunday honoring the life of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.
Shafkat Anowar
Demonstrators attend a peace walk on Sunday honoring the life of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.

Thousands of people marched on Sunday in Chicago's Little Village. That's the neighborhood where 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed three weeks ago.

Police body camera footage released last week shows police chasing Adam down an alley. An officer orders him to show his hands, but less than a second later, after Adam has stopped running, his hands are up and the officer shoots him.

The shooting has led to demonstrations and demands that the Chicago Police Department make major changes.

Demonstrators have also come out en masse to pay tribute to Adam. In Little Village on Sunday, demonstrators were joined by the Toledo family as they helped lead a peaceful processional through the neighborhood. One day earlier, the family hosted some 20-30 people in their home for a novena — nine days of prayer in memory of a loved one.

Among those who gathered with the family this weekend was their attorney, Adeena Weiss-Ortiz. In an interview with Morning Edition, Weiss-Ortiz spoke about a family that has been devastated by the killing, saying: "Every day for this family is another day of pain and suffering without Adam."

"The last time his mother saw him, she was putting him to bed in the room that he shared with his 11-year-old brother. And the next time she saw him, he was in the morgue," said Weiss-Ortiz.

She said it will be up to the Cook County State's Attorney in Chicago, and possibly the Department of Justice, to decide whether Eric Stillman, the officer who shot Adam, should face charges. For now, Weiss-Ortiz said, her focus is on "justice for Adam, and that means reform, training and ensuring that another child does not get killed at the hands of law enforcement."

Interview Highlights

What is your understanding of what happened in that alley and what has emerged as a really big question — was he holding a gun?

Everybody has seen this video that came out from COPA, from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. When you look at that video and that foot pursuit, you don't see a gun in Adam's hand. Adam takes a pause at the break in the fence. It looks like he's trying to get something out of his pocket, throws it down, turns around to the officer. Adam died because he complied with the officer's directive. Adam may still be alive today had the officer given him the opportunity to comply.

At a press conference, Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said: "We must do more to help children like Adam before they end up in encounters like this one." She talked about getting kids off the streets. She said sometimes the streets are as "seductive and powerful as a narcotic." Has Adam's family or anyone told you about what was happening in his life that he was out in the street that night?

Yeah, I was there at that press conference. Look, Adam is a typical 13-year-old boy. He loved going to the park. He was a young uncle. He had a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old nephew that he would dote upon and take them down the slides. He was an emerging artist based on his teacher's comments. He liked playing cards, biking around the neighborhood with his little brother and [making] Lego creations. When Lori Lightfoot spoke about seduction of the streets, I understood her comment. But Adam was your typical 13-year-old boy.

Acknowledging that there are dangers for 13-year-olds, even typical 13-year-olds, the mayor has pledged to reform the police since she took office almost two years ago. Do you have faith in her ability to do that? And as somebody who works in the legal system and with the judicial system, what do you think needs to happen in Chicago?

Well, you know, born out of the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald, the African American young man that was shot down at the hands of police, born out of that case was a 2019 federal consent decree which touched upon use of force, community policing, accountability and transparency, recruitment, training, etc. Lori Lightfoot has a huge task on her hands. I believe, with time and with a more aggressive approach, this is something that can be addressed, but we have to be able to ensure that this does not happen again to any other child in the future.

How will you go about that process, though?

Well, as part of our dealings with the city in this case, we are looking at what reform looks like, how to achieve it, how to have officers deal with shoot/no shoot situations. The consent decree talks about how to deal with those with mental health disabilities. The consent decree also needs to talk about what to do in a situation when you're confronted with a child.

So there are specific steps in the consent decree that address certain areas of policing, but there are also parts where the consent decree just doesn't make clear what should happen.

That is correct. So the consent decree had hit certain points and certain benchmarks. And actually there was an article that came out in the Chicago Tribune a couple of years ago noting that CPD failed on certain timelines and certain benchmarks as set forth in that consent decree. So, yes, [a] more aggressive approach needs to be taken with the city and the Chicago Police Department in ensuring all terms of that order is complied with.

Lastly, what are you telling the Toledo family to expect at this point?

I'm telling them to expect a long journey. I'm telling them to hold up and that with time we will be able to ensure that this does not happen to another child. I am telling them that this is an unfortunate death, but that we don't want this to happen again to any other child and that Adam will not have died in vain.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.