The Chicago Police Board has rejected the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s recommendation to fire the officer who shot Anthony Alvarez in a high-profile case last year.
Alvarez, 22, was shot by Chicago police officer Evan Solano after a foot chase in Portage Park. Police Board Member Steven Block reviewed the COPA investigation and separation recommendation and denied it.
Alvarez family attorney Todd Pugh denounced the choice in a statement Thursday.
“The Alvarez family continues to be in shock over Anthony’s death. They are appalled by Mr. Block’s decision to simply recommend a 20-day suspension of a police officer who COPA says violated numerous policies and guidelines prior to killing Anthony Alvarez,” the statement read. “…Today’s decision not only comes as a blow to the Alvarez family, but it continues the message that encounters with the Chicago Police Department remain potentially deadly.”
At Thursday night’s police board meeting, Block announced his decision to go along with Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown’s recommendation for a 20-day suspension for Solano.
Block, a partner at law firm Thompson Hine and a member of the police board since late 2021, wrote in his opinion on the case that Solano’s use of force was “objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances. as the officers reasonably perceived them” and he agreed with Brown that COPA’s evidence was “legally insufficient” to support that the officers acted against general orders by using force and engaging in the pursuit at foot.
Block found that Brown’s proposal for a 20-day suspension was more reasonable than the chief administrator’s recommendation to fire the officer. Block only accepted allegations that Solano failed to activate his body-worn camera in a timely manner, properly load his firearm, or make the required notification to the Office of Emergency and Disaster Management. communications from the prosecution.
Block’s opinion noted that officers had a reasonable suspicion of making an investigative stop of Alvarez based on their knowledge that he had driven on March 29, 2021, with a suspended license and probable cause. arrest Alvarez based on how he was holding his belt when he fled, leading officers to believe he was illegally concealing a firearm.
Block also noted that officers knew Alvarez because Solano and his partner Sammy Encarnacion had responded to a domestic call involving Alvarez and the mother of his child the previous April. This call led Solano to prosecute Alvarez, who was detained without incident.
Block disagreed with COPA that Solano did not use de-escalation techniques. Solano tried to play down the confrontation by using “continuous communication,” yelling at him to drop the gun and further warning that Solano was going to shoot could have prompted Alvarez to shoot first, Block found.
But because Encarnacion didn’t activate his body-worn camera until after Alvarez was shot, the footage of the foot chase captured by the camera was buffered, which has no sound. Block therefore credited the officers’ consistent testimonies to confirming the verbal demands made to Alvarez during the pursuit.
Andrea Kersten, COPA’s chief administrator, told the meeting that she supports the investigation and COPA’s findings. After the meeting, Kersten told reporters that she understands that each case has its own merits and analyzes that COPA as well as the board member are taking. But COPA believes it matters with cases “of this consequence” with large amounts of evidence that it should go to the full police board instead of just one member.
“We came to the conclusions that we came to because, based on the totality of the circumstances,” she said. “We felt that the actions of the officers set in motion the circumstances that led to this unnecessarily and that is a large part of the reason we have reached the supported conclusion that we have made, particularly in this regarding ultimate justification or lack thereof as we found ourselves using deadly lethal force.
Kersten said the 20-day suspension is the final decision and COPA has no avenue of recourse or appeal.
Alvarez was shot as he walked away from Solano, who was chasing him and yelling at him to “drop the gun”, video of the shooting released last year showed. Solano fired shots and footage shows Alvarez dropping a gun as he fell to the ground. He was shot in the back and thigh, an autopsy later revealed.
His family filed a lawsuit in February alleging the city is responsible for his death in part because the Chicago Police Department did not have a foot chase policy at the time. The family’s lawsuit states that Alvarez did not threaten the officers or anyone else and that the police had no valid reason to arrest or prosecute him that night.
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His death came just days after another Chicago police officer fatally shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo during a foot chase. Both shootings sparked protests, and the city implemented a foot chase policy. In April 2021, the Civilian Police Accountability Office had recommended to Chicago police officials that Solano be relieved of his police powers during his investigation, an action that would require the officer to give up his badge and to his weapon for professional purposes while assigned to paid office work. He was stripped of his police powers in June 2021. COPA concluded its investigation into the Alvarez shooting in January.
In March, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office would not pursue criminal charges against officers involved in the Alvarez and Toledo shootings. Foxx told a news conference that prosecutors determined the two officers reasonably believed they were in danger when they opened fire. Toledo and Alvarez carried guns the nights they were shot.
The police department released its final version of a foot pursuit policy in June, which had been in the works for more than a year since the Alvarez and Toledo shootings.
The policy states that officers can only engage in a foot pursuit if “there is a valid law enforcement need to detain the person” that outweighs the dangers of the pursuit. Officers should also not start a pursuit or stop one for various reasons, such as if the officer is injured or a third party is injured and requires immediate medical attention; if the agent does not know their current location; and if the officer loses his radio or firearm. The policy also states that if an officer is alone, they should not start or continue a pursuit.
All officers will receive online training on the new policy, and it will also be incorporated into the department’s 40 hours of mandatory in-person training, according to police chiefs. Robert Boik, CPD’s executive director of constitutional policing and reform, said the policy will not officially come into effect until all officers have been trained, which will likely be by the end of the summer.