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Adam Toledo's Family Attorney Speaks After Body Cam Footage Released


Thousands of people marched last night in Chicago's Little Village. That's the neighborhood where 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed three weeks ago. Police bodycam footage released last week shows police chasing Adam down an alley. The boy is holding what appears to be a gun. Then he tosses it away. Almost simultaneously, a police officer commands him to drop it. And then less than a second later, Adam's hands are up. And the officer shoots him. This has led to demonstrations and demands that the Chicago Police Department make major changes.

With me now, Adeena Weiss-Ortiz - she's a lawyer who represents Adam Toledo's family. Good morning.


KING: How is the family doing?

WEISS-ORTIZ: Well, as you can imagine, they're devastated. 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. As you know, yesterday, the family participated in a beautiful and large peaceful procession throughout Little Village, where everyone kneeled and prayed, and mariachi played in his honor. And I was at the family home on Saturday. And in this modest home, 20 to 30 people were congregated to say the novena. Every day for this family is another day of pain and suffering without Adam.

KING: What is your understanding of what happened in that alley? And what has emerged as a really big question - was he holding a gun?

WEISS-ORTIZ: So 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, and 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.

KING: 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?

WEISS-ORTIZ: Yeah. I was there at that press conference.


WEISS-ORTIZ: 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 like playing cards, biking around the neighborhood with his little brothe and make Lego creations. When Lori Lightfoot spoke about seduction of the streets, I understood her comment. But Adam was your typical 13-year-old boy. As part of this journey, we would like to establish something called Adam's Place, something where inner-city children could go to pursue their education, finish high school, go on to college and take them away from whatever the streets may have to offer.

KING: 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 so with the judicial system, what do you think needs to happen in Chicago?

WEISS-ORTIZ: 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, et cetera. Lori Lightfoot has a huge task on her hands. I believe with time and with an 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.

KING: Do you think Officer Eric Stillman should face charges?

WEISS-ORTIZ: Look, everybody needs to be accountable in this case. Charges against Stillman is something that the Cook County state's attorney is going to have to deal with and maybe the Department of Justice later on. But that is not my fight at this time. My fight is to get justice for Adam. And that means reform, training and ensuring that another child does not get killed at the hands of law enforcement.

KING: How will you go about that process, though - reform, training, making sure another child doesn't get killed?

WEISS-ORTIZ: 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.

KING: 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.

WEISS-ORTIZ: That is correct. So the consent decree 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, an 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.

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

WEISS-ORTIZ: 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.

KING: Attorney Adeena Weiss-Ortiz.

Thank you, this morning, for your time.

WEISS-ORTIZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAMBLES' "SUCH OWLS AS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.