Chicago Police Shooting of Adam Toledo and the Importance of Video Evidence

During the early morning hours of March 29th, in a dark alley in the Chicago Little Village neighborhood, 13 year-old Adam Toledo was shot by police and later died. In the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright at the hands of Minneapolis Police and with a rising national consensus calling for stronger action against police aggression, this Chicago death will be subject to intense scrutiny in the coming days.

Bodycam and Other Arrest Footage Released to Public

Two weeks after the shooting of Adam Toledo, the City of Chicago and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) released to the public extensive footage from police-worn body cameras (body-cam), gunfire detection data (shot-spotter technology), surveillance footage and 911 audio recordings. In these videos, the officer from the Ogden District Tactical Unit can be seen pulling his Chicago Police vehicle into the alley and then running towards the offender. As the CPD Officer runs down the alley, he can be heard shouting at Adam Toledo to stop, to show him his hands and to “drop it”.

When viewed frame by frame, a gun-shaped object appears to be visible in the right hand of Toledo behind his back. He then momentarily pauses as he stands near a fence opening, before turning around in the direction of the CPD officer. Surveillance footage recorded from a parking lot, appears to show Toledo throwing an object behind the fence as well. When he then turns around, he is shot in the chest almost immediately, slumping to the ground. The officer calls in “shots fired” on his police radio and asks the fatally injured 13 year-old where he was struck, whether he was “all right”, and then begins chest compressions which ultimately prove to be futile.

COPA Replaced the Independent Police Review Authority in Chicago

Nearly five years ago, COPA replaced what was once known as the “Independent Police Review Authority” as the civilian agency which is charged with overseeing the Chicago Police Department in matters of police brutality, excessive force and other police complaints. The Police Review Authority had come under increasingly greater scrutiny over the years and was viewed as a puppet of the CPD by many, seldom reprimanding Chicago Police officers, rarely finding citizen complaints as substantiated and virtually never recommending the firing of a CPD officer, sometimes even in the face of questionable police shootings and deaths.

Just before COPA replaced this civilian authority, the organization came under national attack in the press following the Laquan McDonald police shooting in 2014 at the hands of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The organization, along with the City of Chicago and the Cook County States Attorney’s Office, were widely perceived as stone-walling the release of video evidence which would show that the CPD officer acted unreasonably under the circumstances and shot Laquan McDonald dead in the street, even though he was a distance away from the officer and displayed only a knife at his side.

With the public outrage surrounding the Laquan McDonald shooting still likely ringing in Chicago’s ears, this time around COPA appears however to have acted quickly and without the necessity of lawsuits and demands from the family. In a statement released to the public, COPA indicted its willingness to complete a thorough, objective and full investigation of the deadly incident, including not only the CPD officer’s use of deadly force, but the actions of other officers who were involved, ultimately making a determination whether this use of deadly force complied with Chicago Police directives and training. As part of normal protocols, the incident was also referred to the Cook County States Attorney’s Office and Federal authorities for a decision about whether criminal charges will be warranted, or a violation of federal civil rights occurred.

Video Evidence is Usually the Very Best Evidence

In the classic book by George Orwell titled “1984”, the government urged its citizens to “reject the evidence of your eyes and ears” and listen not to what they might see or hear, but instead to what the government says to be the truth. Sound advice? Of course not. We have eyes to see and ears to hear for a reason, and that responsibility should not be entrusted to others if at all possible.

Yet, for the first two centuries of America, there was no such thing as video evidence. Yes, there were movie films that would sometimes capture the truth of events (such as the assassination of President John Kennedy), but generally, unless someone personally witnessed an event, there was no choice other than to rely on the testimony of others. Even though videotape, dashcams, body-cameras and Ring doorbells are now virtually everywhere, actual alleged crimes are very seldom captured on video. So, the lack of video evidence is still quite common in most criminal cases, and in such circumstances, a judge or jury will decide the case based upon the evidence that is available.

In the case of Adam Toledo however, there exists a great deal of video evidence to be viewed. As such, the courts and the public will not need to rely solely on testimony of the police officers to determine whether the shooting was justified or not. If criminal charges are later initiated, the jury will be able to watch all the tapes and hear all the 911 calls before making a final determination. In the face of such a terrible tragedy, this transparency will ultimately serve the ends of justice, whatever those ends may turn out to be.

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