A Cook County judge stopped all disciplinary hearings before the Chicago Police Board as the Chicago City Council considers whether to reaffirm its rejection of an effort backed by the city’s largest police union to upend the system used for 60 years to punish officers.
The order by Judge Michael Mullen issued Wednesday means that the Police Board will not begin weighing whether to fire Chicago Police Officer Eric Stillman for shooting and killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a brief foot chase in March 2021 as scheduled on Monday, sending his case into limbo.
That has left the teen’s family “overwhelmingly disappointed,” according to a statement released by Joel Hirschhorn, the lawyer for the Toledos, who have sued the city and repeatedly called for Stillman to be fired.
“It has been two years and 10 months since City of Chicago Police Officer Eric Stillman shot and killed our beloved 13-year-old Adam,” the statement reads. “We pray that whatever legal proceedings are interfering with the Police Board hearing is resolved as quickly as possible so that we can begin to have closure.”
The Police Board is blocked from holding any hearings until Feb. 24, with the next hearing in the lawsuit brought by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, set for Feb. 26, according to Mullen’s order.
Police union President John Catanzara said he was pleased by Mullen’s decision.
“This has been an unnecessary fight and delay for equal protections for our members like every other municipal union employee,” said Catanzara, calling the actions by the mayor and City Council “shameful.” “Mayor Johnson and all his allies in the council will never be able to say they are pro union again without hearing from us.”
Allies of Mayor Brandon Johnson delayed a planned City Council vote on Wednesday to reaffirm its decision to reject a decision by an arbitrator that officers facing termination or a suspension of at least a year have the right to choose how their cases are resolved. The City Council’s Workforce Development Committee voted 10-5 on Tuesday to affirm the earlier rejection, setting up the final vote.
Police Board President Kyle Cooper called on the City Council to reaffirm their decision.
“Allowing (the arbitrator's) ruling to stand will shroud the Toledo case and other allegations of serious police misconduct in secrecy,” Cooper said. “Such an outcome will only further erode the trust between law enforcement and our citizens and undermine our collective efforts to create a more accountable and transparent system of policing in Chicago.”
If the arbitrator’s ruling prevails, Stillman, and every other officer accused of serious misconduct that could lead to termination or a suspension of a year or more, could request that an arbitrator, who must have the blessing of union leaders, be appointed to decide his punishment after proceedings that will take place behind closed doors.
That would gut the power of the Chicago Police Board, which is charged with resolving disputes over serious discipline.
The City Council is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 16, and could take up the issue then. If at least 30 members of the Chicago City Council affirm their December vote, a fierce legal fight will ensue over the city’s ability to publicly hold officers accountable.
Johnson has said he is willing to fight the police union to keep the police discipline system intact.
“Police officers who are accused of some of the most heinous acts of misconduct, the public deserves an opportunity to see how that process proceeds,” Johnson said. “Anything less than that is, it’s not transparent.”
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency charged with investigating police misconduct known as COPA, determined that Stillman should be fired for shooting Toledo, finding that he violated the department’s use of force policy by shooting the unarmed 13-year-old and violated his training on foot pursuits.
Former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown objected to that conclusion, instead recommending that Stillman be suspended for five days for failing to activate his body-worn camera when required.
That disagreement meant it was up to a randomly chosen member of the Chicago Police Board to determine whether Brown met “his burden of overcoming” COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten’s recommendation.
Former Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman, who remains on the board, was randomly chosen to decide whether to uphold the superintendent’s decision or send the matter to the full police board.
In a four-page ruling, Foreman determined that Brown had not met his burden to overturn Kersten’s recommendation that Stillman be fired, sending the matter to the full Police Board for a full evidentiary hearing and public vote.
Foreman said in that decision 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.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx declined to file criminal charges against Stillman in connection with the death of Toledo.
Toledo was carrying a firearm in his right hand, but began dropping it and tried to put his arms in the air as he turned to face Stillman, who then fired one shot at the boy, striking him in the chest, according to video captured by the Stillman’s body-worn camera.
Foxx said these actions occurred “within one second.”
Stillman’s belief that he was in danger of imminent harm was reasonable “given the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident,” Foxx determined.