The second-highest ranking official in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is resigning after an internal review found an oversight failure led to a prosecutor mischaracterizing video of the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.
The mischaracterization was another political stumble in a high-profile case for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who spent most of her reelection campaign deflecting critiques of her handling of the criminal case against television star Jussie Smollett. But the promotion by her office of an erroneous pro-police narrative in Adam’s killing threatens the core of her brand as a criminal justice reform leader and prompted Foxx to order the internal review of the in-court comments.
At an April 10 court hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy described Adam as holding a gun in his right hand when he was shot. That description came at a moment when the city was still grieving the boy’s death and as the public was hungry for details of what happened. Videos of the shooting released by the city the following week show the boy was holding a gun during a foot chase, but dropped it the instant before Chicago Police Officer Eric Stillman fired.
An investigation by Foxx’s office found that the attorney’s planned remarks in court were not reviewed by a supervisor beforehand. The review also found that while Foxx was given a heads up before the case appeared in court, the information she was given did not “align with what was presented in court.”
In an interview with WBEZ, Foxx said she was told the shooting video would be described in general terms, but she did not know the prosecutor would get into specifics about the police shooting.
Foxx acknowledged that nothing Murphy said during the court hearing was factually incorrect. But she said taken together his statements gave the incorrect impression that Adam was still armed when Stillman shot him.
“The internal investigation found that the attorney [involved] did not intend to give the impression that Adam Toledo was holding the gun at the moment that he was shot,” Foxx said. “Despite that that was not his intention, the proper steps weren’t taken to ensure that his language, the language he used in that statement in court, had the intended effect.”
Now, First Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Coleman is resigning from the office. The abrupt resignation comes five months after she was elevated to be Foxx’s second in command. As first assistant, Coleman was in charge of keeping Foxx abreast of what was happening in county courtrooms.
Foxx declined to comment on why Coleman was resigning, but the resignation comes on the same day that the results of the internal investigation were released.
The comments were made during a bond court hearing for Ruben Roman, Jr. Prosecutors say Roman fired the shots that prompted a confrontation with police, and that Roman then handed a gun to Adam, which ultimately led to the boy’s death.
Roman is charged with illegal gun possession, reckless discharge of a firearm and felony child endangerment.
The internal review found that Murphy “was not given sufficient guidance as to what information should and should not have been” a part of his statement during the court hearing.
But Foxx acknowledged that most bond court statements by prosecutors are not reviewed by supervisors beforehand.
“However, what was unique about this particular case is that it’s a case that not only was pertaining to Ruben Roman’s charges, but also a separate investigation into the shooting death of Adam Toledo by a Chicago police officer,” Foxx said. “So given the uniqueness of that and the pending investigation of the shooting, it certainly should have warranted additional review to make sure that what was said in court would not compromise the work that was being done on the investigation.”
In the wake of the video release, Foxx distanced herself from Murphy’s comments. In an April 15 statement, hours before videos from the shooting were released, Foxx’s press office said Murphy “failed to fully inform himself” before describing the video in court. Murphy was then placed on paid leave pending an internal investigation.
The results of the internal review were made public Wednesday, and Murphy has returned to work.
Foxx denied that Murphy’s suspension, the internal investigation or Coleman’s resignation had anything to do with the fact that the alleged discrepancy between the prosecutor’s statements and the videos looked bad for Foxx politically. Foxx was elected, and then reelected, on the basis of her bona fides as a reformer who is willing to hold officers accountable if they break the law. She insisted a desire to maintain that image played no role in how she’s handled the controversy.
“This isn’t about accusations or fall guys. My name’s on the door. I’m responsible for everything that comes out of that office,” Foxx said. “And so my review, my doing an investigation, it is because the people of Cook County have had their faith shaken in the criminal justice system, particularly around officer involved shootings. And we owed it to the public to be able to make sure that we did this as transparently as we could and acknowledge the potential harm that it would have on people’s belief in our system.”
Officer Stillman shot and killed Adam, a seventh-grader, around 2:30 a.m. March 29.
The shooting happened, according to the Police Department, after officers responded to an alert about potential shots fired near West 24th Street and South Sawyer Avenue on the city’s Southwest Side. Police said when the officers arrived, two people ran, including Adam, and that an officer fired a single shot during an “armed confrontation.”
Foxx said her office’s Law Enforcement Accountability Division is still reviewing the shooting for potential criminal charges against Stillman.
She declined to comment on that investigation, or weigh in on whether the comments in bond court could have a negative impact on any potential criminal case against the officer.
Stillman’s attorney, Tim Grace, has said he can’t imagine Stillman will be charged with a crime.
Foxx said she watched videos from the police killing on April 12, two days after Roman’s bond hearing. She said she typically avoids watching videos from police shootings until her prosecutors have finished their investigation and present charging recommendations to her along with all of the supporting evidence. She said she also watches videos that have been released to the public for her general awareness, “but there’s no engagement with me or commentary from me about the videos.”
Foxx said it is important to her not to influence those investigations along the way.
She said she made an exception to watch the video in this case before the public because of the controversy surrounding Murphy’s statements.