The Chicago police officers who fatally shot a 13-year-old boy and a 22-year-old man while chasing them on foot will not face criminal charges, officials said Tuesday.
"This is a somber announcement as there are no winners in this very tragic situation," Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx told reporters as she announced the decisions.
The March 29, 2021, police killing of Adam Toledo sparked nationwide outrage after body camera video showed the 13-year-old had his hands in the air when Officer Eric Stillman fired his weapon. Two days later, on March 31, Officer Evan Solano fatally shot Anthony Alvarez after he and his partner engaged the 22-year-old, who was known to them from an attempted traffic stop the night before, as he was walking through a gas station parking lot.
In both cases, Foxx said there was insufficient evidence to charge either officer, noting that under Illinois law, officers are justified in using deadly force "when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or other such persons."
Stillman and Solano were both able to demonstrate that they feared for their lives, Foxx said. Toledo had been carrying a gun in his right hand while Stillman was chasing him. And before tossing it behind a fence, he had begun turning his body toward the officer to raise his hands, Foxx said.
"Officer Stillman explained that after he fired the one time he saw Adam's right hand was empty," she said.
In Alvarez's case, Solano said he saw the 22-year-old in a crouching position with a handgun in his right hand, causing him to believe he was "waiting to ambush him." But Solano had not seen that, moments before, Alvarez had slipped and fallen to the ground and was trying to regain his footing when the officer fired his weapon five times, striking Alvarez twice.
"He thought Mr. Alvarez was turning to shoot toward him and his partner who he believed was behind him," Foxx said.
Neither Toledo nor Alvarez pointed the handguns they were carrying at the officers, according to the body-worn camera footage released by the city's Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
The killings came at a time when the nation was grappling with the rage and exhaustion of witnessing so many deadly acts of police violence. At the time, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was on trial — and shortly after was convicted of murder — in George Floyd's death. About 10 miles away from Chauvin's trial, a veteran Brooklyn Center police officer killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. That officer, Kim Potter, was recently sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in Wright's death.
In Chicago, the fatal shootings of Toledo and Alvarez forced the police department to finally adopt a set of guidelines on when and how police chase potential suspects on foot, a scenario that is inherently dangerous for the officer and the public. At the time of both shootings, the department did not have a formal foot pursuit policy in place, despite a years-old recommendation from the US Department of Justice that it adopt one.
In the wake of the shootings, Chicago police enacted a temporary policy that prohibited foot pursuits for minor traffic violations and barred officers from continuing a pursuit without their partner, among other things. An updated version of that policy is currently being finalized.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court last month, the mother of Alvarez’s 3-year-old daughter said the city was responsible for Alvarez’s death in part due to its failure to implement a foot pursuit policy.
“Deaths like Anthony’s were foreseeable, given the lack of official policy at the time of his death,” attorneys for Alvarez’s family said in a Feb. 23 statement announcing the lawsuit. “Even now, the city is struggling to finalize and implement a foot pursuit policy.”
Christopher Smith, an attorney for Alvarez's family, told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that if such a policy had been in place at the time it likely would have prevented the chase that led to the young father's killing from even happening.
"When the family sees the video of this, it's clear to them in their minds that this [officer] was not acting out of fear and therefore they think that he should have been charged criminally," Smith said. "So they’re saddened and upset by it because how did they lose their loved one and this officer is not even in jeopardy of a criminal conviction for it?"
When asked by a reporter for her thoughts on the policy in the works, Foxx said it is up to the police department to come up with one that "makes everyone safe, particularly those who are running towards danger."
"We say rhetorically all the time police run towards danger. In both of these cases they were running towards danger. That is a fact," Foxx said. "And I think in the instances we’ve seen again, especially with Mr. Alvarez, we have to ask ourselves was this worth the effort?"
But in Alvarez's killing, Foxx said it was the officers, not Alvarez, who "created the conditions" that made the use of deadly force "necessary." She said it was "unnecessary" for them to attempt to stop him because he was not committing any crimes at the time, noting that they knew his home address and could have tried to contact him there in regard to the traffic incident from the night before.
"I have deep, deep concerns about the foot pursuit policy in both of these cases but in particular what happened with Mr. Alvarez," Foxx said.
The officers could still face administrative discipline for potential violations of department policies. In January, the city's police accountability office concluded its investigation into Alvarez's killing. Their findings are currently being reviewed by Chicago police Superintendent David Brown. The office's investigation into Toledo's killing is still ongoing, Ephraim Eaddy, a spokesperson for COPA, told BuzzFeed News.
In a statement, Adeena Weiss Ortiz and Joel Hirschhorn, attorneys for Adam Toledo's family, said they were "profoundly disappointed" by prosecutors' decision not to charge Stillman, saying that his use of deadly force was "excessive and posed a threat to the safety of Adam and others."
"Adam obeyed the police officer’s commands, stopped running, had his hands up in the surrender position, and was nevertheless shot and killed by Officer Stillman," Weiss Ortiz and Hirschorn said. "Despite the painful loss of Adam, the Toledo family continues to call for peace on the streets of Chicago as they pursue justice through the court system."
On Tuesday, Toledo's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Stillman in Cook County Circuit Court, saying that their son "never posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm" to the officer or anyone else.
"Adam never brandished, pointed, or otherwise threatened Stillman with a firearm or any other weapon whatsoever," the complaint states.