My View: Adam Toledo Shooting Troubling, to Put It Mildly

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By David M. Greenwald

On Thursday I got my second shot and so I was lying on the couch and caught part of CNN’s coverage of the Adam Toledo shooting.  One thing I have learned having covered way too many police killings over the years is to attempt to keep an open mind as long as possible on them—as soon as you form an opinion, psychologically your mind shuts off access to new information.

I was however immediately struck by the fact that, at the point of shooting, the 13-year-old Toledo was unarmed, his hands in the air.  The problem was determining at what point the officer realized that he had (a) stopped running, (b) had dropped the weapon, and (c) was complying with orders.

The CNN commentators were quick to exonerate the officer here.

Don Lemon said, “If someone’s running with a gun and they turn around, police officers have to make decisions in split seconds. That’s why I’m not a police officer, because I couldn’t face that kind of pressure, and I just, quite frankly, don’t believe that I could do the job. That’s why I sit here on TV and analyze it and talk to people about it.”

And Chris Cuomo, “In this case, I think that body camera footage is going to wind up to lead investigators to say that, ‘Look, this is terrible. I wish it came out another way, I wish he hadn’t shot, but I understand why he did.  And if he hadn’t had the body camera footage, I think that he would have been in a very difficult situation.”

As one commenter put it, these are hardly “right wing police advocates,” but they are also not experts in police practices.  I would not have reached a snap decision on the air as they appeared to.

I get a lot of videos of police incidents.  Most of them never make it on the Vanguard as an article.  Why?  Over the years, I have adopted a protocol to evaluate police incidents precisely because I want to bring forward cases that are truly representative of bad policing, rather than incidents that look bad but ultimately don’t hold up to scrutiny.

First, I watch it at real time speed.  That gives you an indication of how quickly the officer had to react in real time.  In general, I think that actually speeds things up, you are seeing things with a much narrower range than you would in the real world and that makes things appear to happen a lot faster than they would.

Second, I have an expert evaluate the case.

In this case, I asked Ken Williams, a former Boston homicide detective who is now a use of force analyst and consultant.

Willaims is good because he is critical but fair.  About two-thirds of the videos I have sent him, he comes back with the opinion that the police operated correctly, even on a few where I didn’t agree and other experts diverged.

Here is his full analysis:

I watched raw bodycam footage of the Chicago police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Unfortunately, it was edited so what I observed is only based on the edited video.

What will be discussed is the time available to make a decision from the perspective of the police officer, but we should not lose focus that Toledo’s young brain listened and processed orders from the officer too. What I observed is Toledo stopped running, he turned to face the officer, when ordered to “Drop it” “Drop it” by the officer Toledo did drop the weapon, and once he no longer posed an immediate threat to the officer he was shot in the chest. 

Was it necessary for the officer to discharge his weapon after Toledo dropped the firearm and raised his hands? No. 

Was the force used proportional? No, not after Toledo obeyed the officer’s order to drop the firearm.

Was there time available for the officer to make a decision? Yes, he knew Toledo more likely than not possessed a firearm. The officer ran with his firearm in his hand so that goes towards the officer’s mindset of readiness to meet deadly force with deadly force if needed. But if deadly force is no longer a necessity officers must de-escalate per their department’s use of force policy, training, and experience. 

Was the force used reasonable? Necessity is based on the totality of the circumstances known by the officer at the time of the decision to use deadly force. So, the video is needed to establish when should the officer have known Toledo was no longer armed? If the officer can process Toledo has a firearm in his hand and he can take time to say “Drop it” “Drop it” and Toledo can process those commands and drop the weapon then why didn’t the officer process Toledo was no longer an immediate threat? 

These are questions the reviewing authority should not dismiss because these are more likely than not questions the family and community will want to be answered.

Young Adam Toledo’s death is tragic.

So, does that mean I think this is a bad shooting and the officer should be charged?  I have not made that decision yet.  I think as the questions at the end of Ken Williams message to me show, there are some key questions we don’t have the answers to and that is what the investigators, who will have the benefit of interviewing the officer, will have to discern in order to make the determination.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 thoughts on “My View: Adam Toledo Shooting Troubling, to Put It Mildly”

  1. Bill Marshall

    Let’s start with this… there is the true criminal who is barely mentioned… the 19+ year old kid, who started the whole thing… he is the one who discharged the weapon outside the store… likely, he thrust the gun onto his 13 year old companion, figuring if they got caught, the ramifications of having a minor in possession of the gun, presumably ‘the shooter’, would be less than if the 19 + year old was found to be in possession… the “other video”, which is not even mentioned here, pretty clearly shows the 13 – old was not the one who had possession and fired the shots that prompted the PD response in the first place.

    There there is the ‘scene’ photo that shows the gun was found lying against a fence, with fencing clearly seen on both sides by at least 10 feet on either side… which indicates the 13-yr old did, at one time, ‘possess’ the gun, but now look at the photo in the article… note the LACK of fence, and no hint of a gun where fencing is seen… it appears that the 13 yr old did not possess the gun for some undetermined time BEFORE he stopped, raised his hands, and turned.

    So, does that mean I think this is a bad shooting and the officer should be charged?  I have not made that decision yet. 

    Damn good thing you will not make the decision, David!  Even a cursory look at the totality of the evidence indicates that focusing on the body cam, where most of the record is when the officer and 13 year old were running, is so tunnel vision, as to be ludicrous…

    The investigation should include, at a minimum, whether there was GSR on the 13 yr old, consistent with firing the gun?  What was the distance between the location of the found gun, and the finale?  Is the 19+ yr old in custody, and was he tested for GSR consistent with discharging the weapon?  He, at first blush, is the craven criminal, who set the 13 yr old up, set all the ‘wheels in motion’ in the first place, and will likely not be charged with anything, not held accountable.

    But, apparently, David, you are so focused on the details of the body cam.  Damn glad you don’t get decide as to the officer.  I wouldn’t presume to, even if I had ‘the power’.

    Clearly, the 13 yr old should not have been shot and killed… but the second(s) of the moment of the shot being fired are only a sliver of ‘truth’… officer had been running… adrenaline was ‘high’, in all likelihood… the 13 yr old appears not to have possessed the gun at the time he stopped… frame by frame is a series of ‘snapshots’, not truth, not reality.

    I deeply feel for the family, friends of the 13 yr old… ‘victimized’ by as many as two people, in the last moments of his life.

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      This is the key question: “So, the video is needed to establish when should the officer have known Toledo was no longer armed?”

      If the officer can process Toledo has a firearm in his hand and he can take time to say “Drop it” “Drop it” and Toledo can process those commands and drop the weapon then why didn’t the officer process Toledo was no longer an immediate threat? ”

      To me, we need the officer’s account here as well.  I’m clearly troubled by this shooting based on my full analysis.  But I think in contrast to your post, there is a reason why you need investigators look at the totality of the circumstances before they make a charging decision.

      Bill – do you think this gets charged or not?

  2. Edgar Wai

    If the officer can process Toledo has a firearm in his hand and he can take time to say “Drop it” “Drop it” and Toledo can process those commands and drop the weapon then why didn’t the officer process Toledo was no longer an immediate threat? ”

    Was this a rhetorical or genuine question?

    If the officer had then said anything confirming that he said the weapon was dropped, then you could argue that the officer knew the weapon was dropped.

    Otherwise you don’t yet have an argument that the officer knew the weapon was dropped.

    The officer could be expecting the gun to be dropped on the pavement. But the gun was dropped behind the fence.

    The officer was not checking whether his hands were empty, he is checking whether the gun is where he could see away from the suspect.

    The threat is not gone if the weapon is just hanging on the other side of the fence.

  3. Tia Will

    I believe officers should act on the evidence and facts before them, not on speculation about what might be ( the what if the gun is hanging on the fence scenario). If the officer has enough time to process “what if scenarios” then surely he has enough time to look at the suspect’s hands and to give clear instruction about what to do next. In this case, the suspect appears to have been in compliance at the time he was shot.

    I would like to address the “split-second” decision-making time frame. I think this is relied upon too heavily by those who have never actually had to make decisions in seconds. It makes for a more dramatic story but is often not how it sounds. If a suspect has had time to hear, process instruction and comply, the officer has had equally as much time to assess whether or not they have done so. That is fact. So if we expect a suspect to have followed commands, should we not expect an officer to judge whether or not they have done so in the same time interval? Isn’t that the very basis of saying, if they had been compliant, they would still be alive?

    1. Edgar Wai

      Tia, you misunderstood my comment.

      My comment was that the officer was cognitively expecting to see the gun being separated from the suspect. In split second decisions, those are the types of signal a human being is using as a trigger.

      If the officer is using that as a decision trigger, the moment Adam turned around, what the officer would cognitively register is that the Adam was raising his hand, turning around, and it was not obviously without a gun.

      The split second trigger was:
      A) Did the suspect do what you expected?
      B) Is the suspect about to shoot you?

      If the officer cognitively registered that the suspect was about to shoot him, then it makes sense that the officer fired. It is believable that a human brain would register (B) because it was a fact that Adam did not put the gun where the officer could clearly see.

      Your analysis made no sense because you asserted that you were analyzing from the perspective of a mind making a split second decision, but you failed to account for how a mind actually makes split second decisions. The mind is down to one binary trigger like I have described.

      You were expecting the police to doublecheck whether the suspect is holding a weapon when he could have been shot already while Adam was turning around.

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