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Video: Chicago man had gun, back turned when police shot him

Don Babwin
Associated Press

Chicago — A 22-year-old Chicago man who was fleeing from police had his back turned and appeared to be holding a gun when an officer fatally shot him last month, according to a video released Wednesday in what has become an all too familiar occurrence for the city's embattled police department.

Nearly two weeks after releasing video of the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, the city's independent police review board released footage and other investigation materials pertaining to the March 31 killing of Anthony Alvarez. Unlike in the Toledo case, the board recommended that the officer who shot Alvarez be stripped of his police powers until its investigation is finished — a rare move this early in one of its investigations.

As she did before the Toledo footage was made public, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on the public to remain calm and allow the review board — the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — to complete its investigation into the killing of Alvarez, who, like Toledo, was Latino. The head of the Chicago police union did the same, pleading in a video statement for the public to keep an open mind when watching the footage.

In this image taken from Chicago Police body cam video from early Wednesday, March 31, 2021, Anthony Alvarez lies on the ground after a police foot chase in Chicago.

And even as Police Superintendent David Brown declined to discuss the details of the Alvarez shooting, his department, as it did after the Toledo shooting, released a compilation video, complete with arrows that make it easier to see the gun Alvarez was holding.

In one of the non-compilation clips posted on the review board's website, an officer’s body camera shows him chasing Alvarez. When Alvarez reaches a lawn in front of a house, the officer can be heard shouting, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” before he opens fire. Alvarez appears to drop a gun after five shots ring out and he falls to the ground.

As Alvarez lays there, he asks, “Why you shooting me?” to which the officer responds, “You had a gun.” The officer later tells other officers that Alvarez was armed and points to a gun on the ground.

In the roughly 15 seconds in which Alvarez remains lucid after being shot and with blood quickly soaking his clothes, he can be heard saying “I'm gonna die” as he struggles to look at his cellphone. And as in the Toledo shooting, officers rush to treat Alvarez's wounds, telling him, "I’m trying to help you. Stay with me dude.”

Alvarez's family was provided the video on Tuesday. Todd Pugh, a lawyer for the family, said he watched the video, “And I saw a Chicago police officer shoot their son as he ran away from them."

Although city and police officials didn't release details about the officer who shot Alvarez, a police report that COPA posted along with the video identified him as 29-year-old Evan Solano, a six-year veteran of the force.

While the officer in the shooting of Toledo was put on paid administrative leave, as routinely happens after police shootings, COPA made a point of recommending that Solano “be relieved of police powers during the pendency of this investigation.” COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy wouldn't explain why the office recommended that Solano be stripped of his police powers already, but he conceded that it rarely makes such a recommendation so early in an investigation.

Police and city officials haven't said why officers were pursuing Alvarez, but during a news conference before the video was released, Lightfoot referred to a traffic offense.

“We can’t live in a world where a minor traffic offense results in someone being shot and killed,” Lightfoot said. “That’s not acceptable to me and it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.”

The head of the police union, John Catanzara, said in his video statement that the foot chase that led to Alvarez's death stemmed from an incident the day before in which Alvarez fled from police in a vehicle. The officer who shot Alvarez spotted him the next day and chased him on foot.

Catanzara also predicted that there would be an outcry and “spin” over the shooting because Alvarez, whom he didn't identify by name, was shot in the back.

“There is nothing wrong with this shooting just because the bullet struck the offender from behind,” Catanzara said in a video recorded statement.

“It is important for the public to look at this with an open mind,” he said.

He said the officer clearly saw Alvarez holding the weapon, and that when he was shot, Alvarez was turning toward the officer.

“The officer fears (he) would turn and fire because that's the motion he was making,” Catanzara said.

The release of the Alvarez video followed a pattern for a police department that has been dogged for decades by its reputation for brutality, misconduct and racism. And it comes as videos of police confrontations are putting departments around the country under heavy scrutiny, from the footage that helped lead to a murder conviction in death of George Floyd to the footage of the police killing of Daunte Wright near Minneapolis. Its release also coincided with a North Carolina judge declining to order the immediate release of body camera footage of the fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown, Jr.

Earlier this month, COPA released footage of the March 29 shooting of Toledo. It showed a white officer shoot Toledo as he turned toward the officer raising his empty hands less than a second after the teen tossed aside or dropped a handgun.

This undated family photo provided by Todd Pugh and Tania Dimitrova, Attorneys for the Alvarez family, shows Giselle Higuera, left, Anthony Alvarez, right, with their daughter in Chicago. Alvarez was shot and killed after a foot chase with Chicago Police on March 31, 2021.

As in Lightfoot's statement before the release of the Toledo shooting footage, her statement in the Alvarez case was made in conjunction with attorneys for the family and had essentially the same message.

“The parties are acutely aware of the range of emotions that will accompany the release of these materials and we collectively issue this statement and ask that those who wish the express themselves do so peacefully and with respect for our communities and the residents of Chicago,” the Wednesday statement said.

Police say Alvarez brandished a gun while an officer chased him on foot. As it did after the Toledo shooting, the department posted a photo on social media of the weapon it says was found at the scene.

After the two shootings, Lightfoot announced that the police department would implement a new foot pursuit policy for its officers. The U.S. Department of Justice recommended that the department adopt such a policy four years ago as part of its broader critique of Chicago's policing practices.

Brown said at a news conference Wednesday that because COPA's investigation is ongoing, he couldn’t discuss any details of the officers’ interaction with Alvarez, including why they stopped and chased him.

“I have to stay non-opinionated on facts until I get that complete investigation,” Brown said. “It’s really important for the independence and I think the transparency for the public. You wouldn’t want the police department swaying evidence before it’s completed.”

But Brown said he hopes an updated policy on foot chases could be rolled out “within the next few weeks.”

“All that’s happening concurrently because it’s actually very timely given the current circumstances of ... shootings as a result of foot pursuits,” he said.