In April 2021, after authorities in Chicago released video footage of the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, some observers responded in outrage, claiming that the evidence showed Mayor Lori Lightfoot had misrepresented a key fact in the case by claiming that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot.
On April 15, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an associate professor at Princeton University, tweeted that Lightfoot had “told the public Adam Toledo had a gun in his hand.” Similarly, Alex Sammon, a reporter at the American Prospect, wrote:
Lori Lightfoot told the city of Chicago and the entire country that Adam Toledo was holding a gun in his hand when he was murdered by the cops. She saw that same video we all saw. She must resign immediately or be removed from office.
We examined all of Lightfoot’s public remarks since the fatal shooting of Toledo in the early hours of March 29, 2021, and we found that on one occasion, she indicated that the boy did indeed have a gun in his hand when he was shot, while on another occasion, she made remarks that could readily be interpreted as meaning he was armed when he was shot. As such, we are issuing a rating of “Correct Attribution.”
What did Lightfoot Say?
At a news conference on April 5 to discuss the shooting, Lightfoot repeatedly stated that an adult had “put a gun in a child’s [Toledo’s] hand,” or words to that effect. At one point in the news conference, which can be viewed below, the mayor said:
Let’s be clear. An adult put a gun in a child’s hand. A young, impressionable child, and one who should not have been provided with lethal force — a weapon that could, and did, irreparably change the course of his life.
It’s easy to understand how those comments could readily be interpreted as meaning that Toledo had a “gun in his hand” at the defining moment of that night’s events, namely the instant in which he was fatally shot.
The second relevant statement is even more explicit, but requires some brief background. Chicago police have arrested 21-year-old Ruben Roman in connection with the events leading up to the death of Toledo. Prosecutors have charged Roman with reckless discharge of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, and felony child endangerment.
Police have said that officers were alerted to the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue in the Little Village neighborhood, after sensors detected eight gunshots at 2:26 a.m. When they arrived, police said they found Roman and Toledo fleeing, which prompted a foot chase in an alley that ultimately ended in the fatal shooting of Toledo.
At a bond hearing on April 10, prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office outlined the alleged facts of the case, in which they reportedly included the following assertions: that when a Chicago police officer caught up with Toledo, the boy had a gun in his right hand; the officer ordered Toledo to drop the gun; Toledo did not; the officer shot Toledo.
During a news conference on April 15, shortly before a large dossier of video clips and audio recordings were released, a news reporter presented the prosecutors’ assertions to Lightfoot. It’s worth presenting a full transcript of that exchange, which can also be watched below:
Unnamed reporter: Mayor, to be clear — prosecutors said last week, told a judge in court, that Adam Toledo had a gun in his hand. I understand the video will be released in an hour and a half, but can you confirm that? Is that accurate?
Lightfoot: You’ll be able to see what the video shows. It’s not for me to confirm that. I’m very aware of what was said at the bond hearing for Mr. Roman. I believe that, as articulated, the comments of the State’s Attorney were correct, but it’s not for me to confirm or deny anything about this. There’s an ongoing investigation, and I want to honor that… [Emphasis is added].
While Lightfoot did twice say “It’s not for me to confirm” the accuracy of prosecutors’ claim that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot, she nonetheless did also articulate support for the accuracy of that claim, by saying “I believe that, as articulated, the comments of the State’s Attorney were correct.” That in turn provides corroboration for the claim, made by Taylor, Sammon and others, that Lightfoot had publicly stated that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot.
A spokesperson for Lightfoot provided the following statement to Snopes:
The Mayor was clear in her remarks that it was not her position to confirm nor deny any comments made by the Assistant State’s Attorney. “Believing” that a comment may have been correct is not an endorsement from the Mayor.
It must be noted that Lightfoot did not say she believed the claims made by the State’s Attorney’s office “may be” correct; she clearly stated that she believed they “were correct.” That’s not a legally binding statement, but by any reasonable standard of assessment, it’s an expression of support for the accuracy of what the State’s Attorney’s office had said, and one she did not need to offer, especially given the fact that she had already said it was not her place to confirm or deny anything in relation to the details of Toledo’s death.
What Does the Video Show?
The footage taken from the body-worn camera of the officer who shot Toledo clearly shows that, at the moment when he was shot, Toledo did not have a gun in his hand.
That footage, along with numerous other videos and audio recordings, can be found on the website of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). Some of the footage shows the violent death of a child, and might be upsetting to some readers. The following is a screenshot that shows the instant immediately before the shooting:
After the release of the evidence dossier on April 15, a spokesperson for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office corrected the assertion made by the lawyer from that office, during Roman’s April 10 bond hearing, saying: “An attorney who works in this office failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court. Errors like that cannot happen and this has been addressed with the individual involved. The video speaks for itself.”
However, while Toledo did not have a gun in his hand the moment when he was shot, Chicago police have said that a firearm was recovered from the location near where Toledo was shot dead. Furthermore, the same body-worn camera footage strongly appears to show an object resembling a gun, in Toledo’s right hand, just before the fatal shooting.
The following screenshots were captured at 2:38:39 a.m., just one second before the shooting. In the video, the chasing police officer can clearly be heard shouting “Hands, show me your fucking hands,” and then immediately before the shooting, “Drop it, drop it”:
Footage recorded a few minutes later on the body-worn camera of another officer (“BWC 2 Witness Officer” in the COPA dossier) clearly shows a handgun lying on the ground just behind the length of fence shown in the screenshots above:
A third piece of video footage, taken from a security camera on the opposite side of a lot bordered by the fence in question, appears to show Toledo retrieving an object from his person as he stops running, and then potentially throwing it to the ground behind the fence. The video footage captures his movements better than the screenshot below does, and can be watched under “3rd Party 1 — Shows OIS” in the COPA dossier. However, readers should note that it too shows the fatal shooting of Toledo:
Lightfoot did indeed indicate that Toledo had had a gun in his hand when he was fatally shot. She did this when she said “I believe that, as articulated, the comments of the State’s Attorney were correct,” in reference to an earlier claim made by a Cook County prosecutor that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was fatally shot. As such, we are issuing a rating of “Correct Attribution.”
Video footage released on April 15 demonstrates that Toledo did not have a gun in his hand when he was fatally shot, but the same video footage strongly indicates that he did have a gun in his hand just one second earlier.