A protest Friday evening is planned after the Chicago Police Board, an independent civilian body that decides police disciplinary cases, determined that officer Evan Solano's decision in March of 2021 to shoot and kill 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez following a foot chase in Portage Park was "objectively reasonable and necessary to ensure his own safety and the safety of his partner."
"I’m angry, frustrated," Anthony's mother Veronica said. "COPA assured me they were going to take his charge. There’s no one that we can trust now."
Officer Evan Solano fired five shots as he pursued Alvarez through the Portage Park neighborhood early on March 31, 2021, striking the 22-year-old in the back and thigh after he ignored orders to drop a handgun and appeared to turn his body. Alvarez’s death came just two days after 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot by Officer Eric Stillman during another foot chase in Little Village.
The shootings prompted outrage and pushed department leaders to urgently develop its first foot-pursuit policy. Despite the scrutiny, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced in March that her office found no evidence to support criminal charges against the officers involved in either shooting.
Solano’s case is the first to be heard by the Chicago Police Board, which decides serious disciplinary matters.
Board member Steven Block wrote in a 31-page ruling that Solano’s use of force was “objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional in order to ensure his own safety and the safety of his partner.” He announced his findings during Thursday’s board meeting.
Block was tapped to decide whether to uphold Brown’s recommendation to suspend Solano for 20 days or to set in motion disciplinary proceedings that could lead to his dismissal, as was recommended by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. COPA held that Solano broke six departmental rules, including for disregarding his training for starting and continuing foot pursuits and violating a general order dealing with officers’ use of force.
But Block said the evidence supporting those allegations was “legally insufficient” and noted that Solano’s actions were “objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances.” The only allegations against Solano that were sustained stemmed from his failure to activate his body-worn camera in a timely manner, properly load his gun and notify dispatchers of the pursuit.
Solano’s partner, Sammy Encarnacion, was also handed down a 20-day suspension for violating those same rules. His other charges, for improperly starting and continuing the chase, weren’t sustained.
Alvarez’s family said they were “appalled” by Block’s ruling, which they claimed “marks a continuation of the City of Chicago’s complicity in a loss of human life due to CPD’s decadeslong failure to enact a meaningful foot-pursuit policy.”
“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,” the family said. “As is too often the case, it is our Communities of Color that are most vulnerable to victimization during these encounters.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Andrea Kersten, COPA’s chief administrator, said her agency stands by its “thorough investigation, its analysis and findings.” She called for a full evidentiary hearing for every incident that “results in the death of someone at the hands of law enforcement.”
“This is not about winning or losing, but facts, evidence and testimony being presented to the full police board before a final decision is determined,” she said. “We respect the process but strongly disagree with the final decision put forth by the one-member review.”
‘Why are you shooting me?’
Prior to their deadly encounter with Alvarez, Block wrote, the two officers had multiple run-ins with him.
The Jefferson Park District officers both recognized him from a domestic call with the mother of his child in April 2020 in which Solano detained Alvarez during a foot pursuit, Block said. Encarnacion also knew him from a stopping a car carrying “known gang members,” and Solano recalled him riding with “a person of interest in a shooting” during another stop.
On March 29, 2021, they crossed paths when the officers spotted Alvarez driving without a front license plate, Block said. After the officers ran the temporary plate affixed to the back of his Jeep and learned Alvarez was driving on a suspended license, he drove off and they chose not to pursue him.
Roughly 24 hours later, the officers encountered Alvarez again near a gas station at Addison Street and Laramie Avenue, Block said. He eventually took off when they turned on their emergency lights and grabbed his waistband, indicating to the officers that he had a gun.
During the pursuit, Solano saw Alvarez holding a gun in the 5200 block of West Eddy Street and ordered him to drop it. Then Solano opened fire.
“Why are you shooting me?” Alvarez said on body-worn camera after being struck.
“You had a gun!” Solano responded.
Solano told COPA investigators he opened fire after Alvarez looked over his shoulder, fearing Alvarez was turning around to shoot him and his partner. Video surveillance footage showed Alvarez was holding a gun in front of him when the shots rang out, Block said.
Alvarez’s family insisted that “Block’s unjustified absolution of Officer Solano’s outrageous conduct was based largely on CPD’s failure to have a formal foot-pursuit policy.” Giselle Higuera, the mother of Alvarez’s child, already filed a federal civil rights lawsuit earlier this year claiming the city’s failure to implement such a policy was the driving force behind the shooting.
“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 CPD’s failure to implement a meaningful foot-pursuit policy,” the family said, “and to allow undisciplined and unqualified police officers to remain on the force.”
They said Block’s decision is “particularly galling” given that Solano was later caught on video brandishing a gun during a road rage incident in Logan Square in May 2021, as Block Club Chicago first reported.
A police spokesman wouldn’t immediately provide an update on the internal investigation into that incident, but he said Solano was still stripped of his police powers.