Chicago Police Board President Spurns Crucial Role in Adam Toledo Case.
Fearful of backlash from anti-police activists, Ghian Foreman bungles key decision
Two decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Chicago police officer to face the possibility of termination for fatally shooting an armed gang member. But with the rise of the anti-police movement in Chicago and an increasing number of anti-police aldermen in the Chicago City Council, dismissal from the police force is a virtual certainty when a police officer is obliged to use lethal force.
Today, the City of Chicago counts a consortium of police oversight bodies all tasked to supervise Chicago police officers.
With the addition of the Commission for Public Safety and Accountability created in July 2021, Chicago adds another layer of bureaucracy and "civilian oversight" to the micromanaged Chicago Police Department (CPD). However, there is no body more powerful than the Chicago Police Board. A panel appointed by the mayor and currently led by Ghian Foreman, this body consists of nine members, all civilians, few with any experience in law enforcement, including Foreman. With how convoluted and complex the police disciplinary system is in Chicago, we'll do our best to explain it in the simplest of terms.
The three essential disciplinary bodies for Chicago Police officers are the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), the Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) and the Chicago Police Board. Created in 2016, COPA handles complaints concerning use of force, pattern or practices of misconduct, domestic violence and sexual misconduct. A division of the CPD, BIA investigates criminal misconduct, operational violations, substance abuse, Fourth Amendment violations and other administrative rules and regulations.
Major cases that can come with potential severe punishments are sent to the Chicago Police Board. The Board holds hearings in cases when the Superintendent of Police moves to discharge an officer, rules on disagreements between COPA and the superintendent, and holds monthly meetings where the public can question the superintendent and the Chief Administrator of COPA. COPA is also responsible for selecting three candidates for Superintendent of Police when the vacancy arises.
When a disciplinary case is sent to the Police Board, it is initially reviewed by one randomly selected member of the Board. This one member wields an immense amount of power. The randomly selected member has the duty to either agree with the superintendent, which essentially resolves the case and implements the superintendent's recommendation for discipline or the member can agree with the Chief Administrator of COPA, which triggers a full hearing in front of the nine-member, mayor-appointed, civilian Police Board. These nine members of the Board are often lawyers, directors of non-profit organizations, pastors or other politically connected men or women. Once the randomly selected member rules on the case, the member must recuse themselves from any further involvement in the case as it advances before the full Police Board.
Generally speaking, it is the most high-profile cases that end up being referred to the Police Board as COPA religiously recommends the discipline meted out to be the harshest of punishments in those cases. Oftentimes, COPA recommends termination even in cases that are self-evidently justified uses of force. In early 2022, COPA recommended the termination of Officer Evan Solano for the fatal shooting of Anthony Alvarez, a documented gang member and drug dealer who brandished a firearm and began to turn towards Solano as he fled a police pursuit. In that case, Police Board member Steven Block completed his duty and opined that Superintendent Brown had met the burden to overcome COPA's recommendation that Solano be terminated. In his ruling, Block stated:
“Though Mr. Alvarez's death is undeniably tragic, Officer Solano and Officer Encarnacion's decisions and actions on March 31, 2021, were objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances as the officers could reasonably perceive them.”
Solano instead received a 20-day suspension.
On October 20, 2022, Police Board President Ghian Foreman had the opportunity to rule on the matter of the March 2021 shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. A Latin King gang member, Toledo was fatally injured by Officer Eric Stillman as he responded to a ShotSpotter alert in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. The shooting sparked outrage from the usual community activists, many of whom seized on the incident to bludgeon ShotSpotter technology and Chicago police.
Within minutes of the ShotSpotter alert dispatching Officer Stillman and his partner to 24th Street and South Sawyer Avenue, Stillman encountered 21-year-old Ruben Roman and Toledo. Armed with a handgun, Toledo fled on foot — defying lawful commands to stop and drop the weapon — before slyly flinging the gun behind a fence and turning toward Stillman. 838 milliseconds elapsed between Toledo tossing the gun and turning to face Stillman. The shooting touched off protests in several Chicago neighborhoods, most notably Logan Square, and activists then mounted a campaign to fire and jail Stillman and called on Chicago to discontinue the use of the highly effective ShotSpotter system.
Although COPA urged Stillman’s dismissal from CPD, Superintendent Brown objected to COPA’s decision. Under Police Board rules, the random, single-member evaluation of the case determined Stillman should face the Board. In his four-page ruling, Foreman wrote:
“It is my opinion, based on a thorough review of the material, the parties and the public will benefit from a full evidentiary hearing on this matter.”
This political pressure from anti-police activists and community groups resulted in an activist controlled COPA alleging Stillman was without justification when he fatally shot Toledo. In COPA’s ruling, the agency’s investigators judged Stillman acted inconsistent with a foot pursuit training bulletin and failed to activate his body worn camera in a timely manner. Superintendent David Brown disagreed that Stillman unjustifiably shot the armed Toledo. Brown, however, did affirm COPA’s judgment Stillman failed to activate his body worn camera within a timely manner, but recommended no more than a five-day suspension for this oversight.
This conflict between COPA and Brown triggered the case being sent to the Police Board, and thus the chore to rule whether Stillman would face the Board fell on Board President Ghian Foreman. That the burden to evaluate the most politically charged police shooting since Laquan McDonald was left to Foreman, the mayor-appointed president of the mayor-appointed Chicago Police Board, appointed by the former president of the Chicago Police Board who now serves as mayor, is a bit puzzling.
But this was just pure coincidence, right?
Nonetheless, Foreman had an obligation to fulfill. As the Board member arbitrarily selected to determine Stillman’s fate, Foreman had to decide whether to concur with Superintendent David Brown or reject the superintendent’s objection to COPA’s ruling. Foreman’s view of Stillman’s actions differed from Brown’s, and it set in motion a full Police Board examination. Foreman’s dissent is now subjecting Officer Stillman to an unjust inquisition for a clearly justified shooting.
Foreman has all the evidence already known to the public. The Police Board president knows there was a ShotSpotter alert and multiple 911 calls of shots fired that drew CPD to the scene. Foreman has viewed third-party video of Roman and Toledo walking streets in Little Village prior to Toledo being shot. Foreman has also read reports and reviewed OEMC transmissions.
From evidence gathered in the case, Foreman has seen video of Toledo voluntarily taking the gun from Ruben Roman and fleeing Officer Stillman. Foreman has also reviewed video and heard Stillman ordering Toledo to stop and drop his weapon. Foreman has seen film of Toledo disobeying police commands and continuing to flee police. The Board president has seen video of the moment Toledo does in fact stop with a gun in his right hand. Foreman is fully aware of the millisecond in which Toledo turns and looks at Stillman, gun in hand, and begins to make a movement towards Stillman. Foreman saw that Stillman, a Marine Corps veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, was disciplined enough to fire one, unfortunate fatal shot. Lastly, Foreman is also mindful of the fact Stillman and fellow officers furiously attempted to render aid to Toledo after his armed confrontation with CPD.
Despite a cache of evidence available to Foreman, and the obvious justification of the fatal shooting of Toledo, the Board president was too cowardly to come to the correct decision. In his opinion, Foreman stated:
“Let me be clear: With this ruling I am not saying that the Chief Administrator's recommendation is right and that the Superintendent's is wrong.”
This is Foreman’s way of saying he's incapable of making his decision and fulfilling his duty. Continuing, Foreman said:
“Rather, I am saying that a Police Board hearing that provides due process to all parties is necessary to determine whether Officer Stillman violated any of the Chicago Police Department's Rules of Conduct and, if so, the appropriate disciplinary action.”
A statement showing his weakness, Foreman said it because he fears subjecting himself and the Board to criticism from anti-police activists and community groups that are intent on politicizing a justified police shooting.
This decision, or the absence of one, shows a clear lack of leadership and courage from the president of the Chicago Police Board. It's a selfish and timid recommendation that subjects Officer Stillman to a continuation of a nightmare he's endured since March 29, 2021. Foreman’s decision was made cannily to avoid accepting any accountability for a political decision or a decision made as the result of outside influence. As the saying goes: “If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” And in his kitchen, Foreman shows he couldn't whip up a bowl of cereal and belongs nowhere near important matters such as determining the fate of officers tasked with enforcing the law, much less leading a panel with the awesome responsibility for overseeing CPD.
While Foreman refuses to make a decision, Stillman will continue in conversations with family, friends, coworkers and lawyers. He will remain in the spotlight, whether he likes it or not, and few would believe Stillman is fond of the attention. With Foreman’s decision forcing Stillman’s agony to persist, Stillman will continue reliving that traumatizing event because a supposed leader of a police oversight panel is incapable of making a decision and believes there is a need to subject Officer Stillman to the media, politicos and a mob.
The points Foreman makes in his opinion about "due process" and "affording Officer Stillman" the opportunity to testify are simply implausible. Due process was already achieved when evidence was reviewed by the Superintendent, COPA and Foreman. The opportunity to testify was accomplished when Stillman gave his statements to police investigators and COPA employees. This decision by Foreman is the Board president’s craven gesture to gratify Chicago’s anti-police movement, neighborhood groups known for their hostility with police and the “defund” activists.
Most important, the decision to expose Officer Stillman to a Police Board inquest is a miscarriage of justice that strips Stillman of his due process and rights. It is making Stillman a target all over again and giving the hyper-political Police Board an opportunity to make a political decision rather than bringing the matter to a just conclusion.
The media headlines of Stillman's firing have already begun to swirl. The joyfulness in which some outlets have reported Foreman's decision has been palpable. The handling of this case is a gift to the media and the activists. Foreman's decision provides the media with a plethora of content and the ability to hyperbolize the entire incident. This affords activists the opportunity to scream, agitate and coerce alderman into enacting further police reform. Foreman’s lack of a decision gives activists a stage to create a spectacle as they routinely do when police shootings take place.
Ultimately, this process absolves Ghian Foreman from becoming a villain. To Foreman, nothing matters more than Ghian Foreman and nothing matters more to his boss, Lori Lightfoot, than the prospect of re-election. This election season, the already unpopular former Police Board President and current Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, can't afford to lose a single vote. Unfortunately, the sacrificial lamb in this election cycle has wound up to be a low-level, blue-shirt, who was courageous enough to respond to a call of shots fired and confront an armed gang member.
The shooting death of Adam Toledo was unfortunate. Nevertheless, the biggest atrocity in the aftermath of Toledo’s death is Ghian Foreman knew the right decision to make. Rather than acting impartially and as part of an independent disciplinary body he's supposed to lead, Foreman instead punted responsibility to his peers so that no single person can be held accountable for this critical decision. Because of Foreman’s refusal to stand up for principle, the public trial of Eric Stillman will continue for the time being and Stillman will now face the possibility of losing the job he swore to do on March 29, 2021.