PORTAGE PARK — Police officer Evan Solano, who shot and killed Anthony Alvarez during a foot chase last year, will keep his job after the Chicago Police Board refused calls from the police oversight agency and Alvarez’s family to fire him.
The board handed down its decision Thursday, suspending Solano and his partner, Sammy Encarnacion, for 20 days each for their actions in the March 31, 2021, shooting.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability had recommended Solano be fired and Encarnacion serve a long suspension or even be fired, saying both officers erred in chasing Alvarez that night and not properly activating their body-worn cameras, among other violations.
The oversight agency also determined Solano unjustifiably shot Alvarez just blocks from his home, saying the 22-year-old was running away from officers and did not pose a threat to them. Previously released videos showed Alvarez was carrying a gun, but he didn’t point it at anyone in the footage and was shot while running away from officers.
Supt. David Brown did not agree with that assessment or that either officer should be fired. He recommended 20-day suspensions for both.
Because Brown and the oversight agency disagreed on the violations and the potential punishment, that sent the matter to one randomly selected member of the police board for a final review.
Board member Steven A. Block issued the decision, which sided with Brown on the suspensions. Block said chasing after Alvarez and Solano’s decision to shoot him were “objectively reasonable,” and neither officer went against their training on foot chases by pursuing him.
After Alvarez’s shooting, activists and officials urged the Police Department to overhaul its foot chase policy. The agency did examine the policy, and it released an updated foot chase policy in June — but it still widely allows officers to run after people and has been criticized.
Representatives from Alvarez’s family, who long have called for Solano to be fired and charged with murder, said they were “appalled” at the decision.
“Today’s decision is not only a gut punch to the Alvarez family, but it perpetuates the message that encounters with the Chicago Police Department remain potentially lethal,” attorneys for Alvarez’s family said in a statement. “As is too often the case, it is our communities of color that are most vulnerable to victimization during these encounters.”
Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, said her office “stands by its thorough investigation, analysis and findings.”
“No one is more impacted than the Alvarez family, who are still grieving their loss,” Kersten said. “I respect the process, but strongly disagree with the decision put forth by the one-member review.”
The Alvarez family and local activists are hosting a rally to protest the police board decision at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St.
Solano’s attorney, Tim Grace, said in a statement Friday the police board’s decision was “fair and just.” Grace also criticized the police oversight agency’s push to fire Solano, saying the agency is “beholden to the mob mentality of the anti-police movement.”
“The Chicago Police Board, through a very considered opinion outlined of the public, found that the actions of Officer Evan Solano were in fact consistent with both the policies and general orders of the Chicago Police Department and the prevailing use of force law,” Grace said in the statement.
Why Did Officers Start Chasing Alvarez?
The written decision offers detailed insight into why Solano and Encarnacion began chasing Alvarez leading up to the shooting in the 5200 block of West Eddy Street.
The officers knew Alvarez before the shooting, according to the report, citing the police oversight agency’s investigation.
Solano and Encarnacion had responded to a “domestic call” in April 2020 involving Alvarez and the mother of his now-3-year-old daughter, according to the report. In that instance, Solano also chased Alvarez and detained him. It is not clear if Alvarez was arrested or charged.
Solano also pulled over a car Alvarez was in on Laramie Avenue about eight months before the the fatal shooting, according to the board’s report. Someone in the car was a person of interest in a shooting, according to the report.
Encarnacion also pulled over a car that included Alvarez along with “known gang members,” according to the report. Alvarez was not arrested.
It wasn’t clear if the traffic stops Solano and Encarnacion described with Alvarez were different incidents.
Two days before the fatal shooting, Solano and Encarnacion saw a white Jeep without a front license plate and a temporary rear license parked at a BP gas station, 5200 W. Addison St., according to the report. They recognized Alvarez driving the car, followed him, ran the license plate and found he had a suspended driver’s license, according to the report.
Alvarez sped up and drove away. The officers did not chase him, but they used the information on his license to get his address but did not find him at his house, according to the report.
The night of the shooting, Solano and Encarnacion were again driving past the intersection of Addison and Laramie and saw Alvarez. He was walking away from the Shell gas station at 5201 W. Addison St. and holding a white plastic bag, according to the report.
“… Officers pulled into the Shell gas station parking lot behind Mr. Alvarez. When Mr. Alvarez looked behind him and saw the officers, he began to walk faster through the Shell gas station parking lot. The officers activated their vehicle’s blue emergency lights, at which time Mr. Alvarez threw his cup and the white bag to the ground, grabbed the front waistband area of his jeans, and began to run through the parking lot towards Addison Street,” according to the report.
Because Alvarez grabbed at his waistband, Solano and Encarnacion believed he had a gun, according to the report.
The ensuing chase unfolded over one minute, according to the report.
Solano, coming around the corner on Eddy Street, saw Alvarez “crouching” on the ground and thought the 22-year-old was waiting to ambush him, officials said.
In reality, Alvarez had slipped and fallen while he was running, authorities said. He had a cellphone in one hand and a gun in the other, and he tried to push himself up and slipped again, officials said.
Solano twice ordered Alvarez to drop the gun. Seconds later, Solano fired shots. He shot Alvarez five times, including in his back.
In Block’s review, he said the oversight agency did not account for several factors to inform why Solano may have thought Alvarez was about to shoot him. Among them: that the officers knew Alvarez “to be associated with known gang members;” that Alvarez grabbed at the waistband of his jeans, “indicating he had a firearm;” that Solano saw Alvarez with a gun in his hand; and Alvarez did not comply with demands to drop his gun, Block wrote.
Only two seconds passed between the time Solano rounded the corner and saw Alvarez with a gun in one hand and when the officer shot Alvarez, Block said.
“From Officer Solano’s perspective, Mr. Alvarez appeared to be positioning himself to ambush the officers or to put himself in a better position to shoot them. … This case is the epitome of a scenario where a police officer was ‘forced to make split second decisions in circumstances that [were] tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving,'” Block wrote, citing case law.
In response to the oversight agency’s determination Alvarez was not pointing his weapon at Solano, Block said there is “no requirement that an officer must wait for a subject to directly point a loaded firearm at an officer or another person before concluding that the subject presents an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.
“Because an armed offender could change the position of a weapon and fire shots in a fraction of a second, such a requirement would present grave safety concerns to officers and the public and make it virtually impossible for officers to pursue armed subjects.”
As for why the officers ran after Alvarez, Block wrote the officers only had a five-page training bulletin to rely upon. That guidance said officers can chase after people if they have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop or arrest someone, and officers must assess the risks to the public in chasing a suspect, Block said.
The oversight agency’s conclusions for why the officers should not have chased Alvarez are not spelled out in the foot pursuit guidelines and do not have the force of an official policy, Block said.
“Rather than reading requirements into the Foot Pursuit Training Bulletin that are not there, COPA would have better served the public by identifying such weaknesses and recommending more stringent training and policies,” Block wrote.
In a news conference after the board meeting, Kersten rejected the idea the officers’ history with Alvarez supported a decision to shoot him.
“Nothing about their prior encounters made Anthony Alvarez more likely to be a deadly threat to those officers,” Kersten said. “Without the ability to demonstrate how those encounters somehow made him more of a threat in the moment, that certainly isn’t necessarily a factor.”
Don Gross, speaking on behalf of the Justice for Anthony Alvarez group that pushed for Solano’s firing, said the board’s decision “is an insult to the people of Chicago.”
“Every one of you who does not speak out against this decision should be ashamed,” Gross said. “Today’s decision makes every single person in the city of Chicago less safe because they all know that [Chicago Police Department] officers can get away with murder if they can get a Police Board member to buy their excuses.”
It was not immediately clear when either officer’s suspension will begin. Solano, who works in the 16th District, was stripped of his police powers in June 2021 as he faced investigations into shooting Alvarez and a separate road rage incident in which he was seen on video in his uniform, arguing with another driver and pulling out his gun.
“This wrongheaded decision is particularly galling when the entire city witnessed officer Solano — just months after killing Anthony Alvarez — brandish his service weapon during a road rage incident while onlookers pleaded for him to ‘calm down,’” Alvarez’s family said in their statement.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced in March she will not bring criminal charges against Solano for killing Alvarez, nor against officer Eric Stillman, who fatally shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo days before Alvarez was killed.
Alvarez’s family also has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officers.
“The Alvarez family will continue to seek justice for Anthony and other young Black
and Brown men who have been killed by police officers, due to [the Police Department’s] failure to implement a meaningful foot pursuit policy, and to allow undisciplined and unqualified police officers to remain on the force,” according to the family’s statement.
A spokesperson for Brown did not return a message seeking comment.
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