The police officer who fatally shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo was listed as a victim on an incident report. One law enforcement expert said it’s ‘an old cop trick meant to muddy the murky waters.’

by Ryan

Adam Toledo

Still from Chicago Police body camera footage from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s (COPA). Civilian Office of Police Accountability

  • An incident report lists Officer Eric Stillman as the victim in an officer-involved shooting that left 13-year-old Adam Toledo dead.

  • A law enforcement expert told Insider that doing so is an “old cop trick” meant to shift culpability from the police.

  • It’s “meant to muddy the murky waters,” often used in “the aftermath of what we cops call a ‘bad shoot,'” he said.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A Chicago Police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a foot pursuit on March 29.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a police watchdog agency released body camera footage and reports of the officer-involved shooting on Thursday.

The report identifies the officer as Eric Stillman, 34, listing him as a victim in an aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer. According to a tactical response report released by COPA, Adam was armed with a semi-automatic pistol, which was “displayed, not used” during the incident.

Tom Nolan, a law enforcement expert who previously worked with the Boston Police Department, told Insider that listing the officer as the victim in the incident is “a long-used and hackneyed police trope” to recast the “focus of culpability and blame onto the actual victim of the police deadly force incident, i.e. the person who the police killed.”

“Thus the victim, in this case, the unarmed dead child who is shot and killed by police becomes the ‘perpetrator’ and the police officer shooter, the killer, assumes the posture and pose of ‘victim,'” he said. “It’s an old cop trick meant to muddy the murky waters, and is often used in the aftermath of what we cops call a ‘bad shoot.'”

The incident and tactical response reports come in contrast with body camera footage also released by COPA, showing Toledo turning to face the officer with his hands up.

Adam Toledo

A small memorial is seen where 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed by a Chicago Police officer in the Little Village neighborhood on April 15, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

An attorney for his family asserts he was not holding a gun when he was shot, though the video appears to show the 13-year-old dropping what appears to be a gun and complying with the officer’s instructions before being shot. Officers immediately began to render aid in the moments after the shooting.

Alfred Titus, a retired 23-year veteran of the New York Police Department where he served as a homicide detective, said listing the officer as the victim in the incident report is “not common” unless “there were actually shots fired.”

“It is done in a time where law enforcement wants to try to be cleared of a controversial issue, or they want to try to gain more of the sympathy or, you know, more of a view that they are the victim themselves and not the state or not that the guy just had the gun in his hand,” Titus told Insider.

“It just brings more emotion into the case on the side of the law enforcement agency and the police officer,” he continued. “So that is possible why it was done this time. Absolutely possible.”

Titus, who now is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, added that normally incident reports and complaint reports list the state as the victim, or if there is an actual victim involved in the incident.

Listing the officer as the victim is legal

However, he said, “the police department is not really doing anything wrong by listing the officer because, by law, assault or aggravated assault with a weapon includes the attempt, which would mean pointing the gun at the officer.”

“It appears that the police department is trying to lock in the highest charge [against the subject] while, at the same time, putting in some kind of some kind of evidence to show that the officer actually feels that the gun was pointed towards him,” he said.

While Titus said it is difficult to determine the specifics of the shooting and whether the officer was in the right or wrong in discharging a bullet, he said the incident exemplifies the “type of split-second decision where error could occur.”

Nolan described an incident report as a record of the situation ‘being painted for the public’s consumption’

“And so, in the minds of the public and the people who will give this, you know, nothing more than a passing glance, it absolves the police of any wrongdoing, always and already,” Nolan, who works as an associate professor of sociology at Emmanuel College, said.

He added that the usually shorter incident report precedes more “voluminous” investigative reports that are released, but investigations “can take years” to complete.

According to the incident report, Stillman was later taken to Rush University Medical Center for a “minor” injury described as an “illness.” It was not immediately clear why Stillman was taken to the hospital, and Insider reached out to the Chicago Police Department for more information.

In some cases, Nolan told Insider that officers are taken to the hospital “just kind of reinforces that sense that, somehow, the officer has been wronged, and he’s been wronged in a sufficiently serious manner as to warrant him being transported to the hospital.”

The response to the release of the body camera footage and documents

An attorney for Stillman said in a statement to The Daily Beast last week that it “is amazing and disheartening is that very few have asked about the welfare of the officer.”

“Specifically there is very little interest in the wellbeing of the officer and the impact experienced by the officer who was required to use deadly force in the line of duty,” the lawyer said. “The officer involved has served his country and his city with honor and deserves our support.”


A protester holding a sign reading “Stop Killing Us” navigates along Chicago’s Loop during a peaceful protest, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, ahead of the video release of the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar

The lawyer also said there was “irrefutable evidence” that his client acted in the right because “all prior attempts to deescalate and gain compliance with all of the officers lawful orders had failed.” In a tactical response report released by COPA, it said that the subject, in this case, Adam, had “used force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has seen “no evidence whatsoever” that Toledo shot at the police.

“Look, I don’t want to get into the real substance of this because the independent investigation is going on, but I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that Adam Toledo shot at the police,” Lightfoot said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Nolan told Insider that the killing of Toledo shows the police’s “attempt to reestablish control over the narrative, and from the moment the gun is discharged, the idea is to establish and to maintain control of the story.”

“There are two stories,” he said. “There’s the narrative that the police provide that may contain some elements of the truth. Yes, there was a foot chase. Yes, there was a gun. Yes, there were reports of shots fired, and the police did respond and engage this boy in a foot pursuit, but that’s where the truth stops.”

Nolan added: “And then what occurs subsequent to that is not something that’s going to be publicly reported anytime soon.”

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