Chicago Police

Chicago Police Move to Fire Officer in Anthony Alvarez Shooting After 5-Year Investigation Into Unrelated ‘Severe' Misconduct

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More than two years after a Chicago police officer fatally shot Anthony Alvarez during a foot pursuit, the city has moved to fire the officer who initiated that chase – over completely separate allegations of misconduct made several years before.

The chase and fatal police shooting of Alvarez in March 2021 sparked protest and changes to the Chicago Police Department’s foot pursuit policy. But what the public didn’t know at the time is that the officer who began that pursuit had been under investigation since November 2017.

“We now know that this interaction should have never happened,” said attorney Chris Smith, who represents Alvarez’s family in a lawsuit against the city and the two officers involved: Evan Solano and Sammy Encarnacion. “It is a tragedy that it happened. And we need to start treating it as tragedy, and it is really an amazing example of everything that's wrong with the police department.”

That lawsuit points in part to a Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigation into Encarnacion that began in November 2017, when his girlfriend went to police to report allegations of a violent altercation. Documents released by COPA late last week show that the subsequent investigation found multiple instances of abuse, excessive drinking and mishandling of his gun dating back to 2016. The police oversight agency labeled his misconduct “severe in nature.”

“He physically and verbally abused an intimate partner on multiple occasions and caused bodily harm to her during several of those instances,” COPA’s summary report reads. “Additionally, Officer Encarnacion was in possession of his firearm and intoxicated on multiple occasions. Most concerning, is Officer Encarnacion’s discharge of his firearm, which went unreported and endangered the safety of himself and others. Such misconduct, both individually and collectively, demonstrates a lack of judgement and self-control that cannot be tolerated.”

COPA sustained 17 of the 21 allegations against Encarnacion, records show, recommending he be fired from the department. That recommendation came in May 2022, more than a year after the shooting of Alvarez and five-and-a-half years after the investigation initially began. In August, Brown agreed with COPA’s recommendation to fire Encarnacion in this case. The city began that process earlier this month by filing charges with the Police Board that were made public on Monday – roughly 10 months after COPA concluded its yearslong investigation. An attorney for Encarnacion did not respond to request for comment.

For the Alvarez shooting, COPA previously recommended in January 2022 that Solano, who shot Alvarez, be fired and Encarnacion, who started the chase, be disciplined up to firing. Then-Supt. David Brown disagreed with COPA’s recommendation in that case, triggering a review by one member of the Police Board, which ruled in July in favor of Brown’s decision. Both officers were suspended for 20 days. Nine days after that Police Board decision, records show Encarnacion fired shots in another, separate pursuit.

Internal documents obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show Encarnacion was relieved of his police powers in August 2022, days after both that second pursuit and Brown’s acceptance of COPA’s recommendation to fire him. Chicago police said he was put on no-pay status April 15, less than a week after the charges were filed with the Police Board.

“The police knew about every one of these situations,” Smith said. “They all should have should have been focused on the question of whether or not this person should ever truly be an officer with a gun and a badge.”

When asked about the length of the more than five-year investigation into the 2017 allegations against Encarnacion, COPA made note of its complexity.

“All investigations are of significant importance and may have their own set of challenges,” the agency said in a statement. “The complexity of this investigation is reflected in the dozens of allegations against the officer that required a thorough review and unique circumstances regarding the officer’s availability.”

The statement also said that within a week of receiving the initial complaint, COPA “sent a request for behavioral intervention to the Chicago Police Department reflecting its concerns about the accused officer, requested that he be mandated to be evaluated and summarized the nature of the allegations in COPA’s investigation.”

A Chicago police spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the Police Board proceedings against Encarnacion. The city’s Law Department did not respond to request for comment on Alvarez’s family’s lawsuit, or questions on the eight-month span between when Brown concurred that Encarnacion should be fired, and when those charges were filed.

Smith said the case speaks to a systemic lack of accountability that can have a real, human cost.

“I think of Anthony Alvarez’s family, in particular, his parents who are learning about this officer and these officers and who they were and thinking, ‘Oh my God, why didn't you do something? Why didn't you stop this? Why can't - I could have had my son.’”

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