The foot chase that ended in the police killing of 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez started because officers were seeking Alvarez for allegedly driving on a suspended license, according to the attorney for the officer who killed him.
Attorney Tim Grace, who is representing officer Evan Solano, said the day before the March 31 shooting, Solano and his partner had attempted to “curb” Alvarez for driving on a suspended license, but Alvarez had taken off. Grace said the officers were not necessarily planning to arrest Alvarez when they attempted to pull him over.
Attorneys for the Alvarez family disputed the claim — saying they had seen no evidence of this attempted traffic stop or any record that officers had run Alvarez’s license through the computer system to see if it was suspended.
The night after the alleged traffic encounter, the officers saw Alvarez on foot outside of a gas station at the corner of West Addison Street and North Laramie Avenue. Security footage released Wednesday by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability show Alvarez starts running as soon as the officers pull up with their police lights flashing.
The officers chased Alvarez through an alley and out onto a residential street, where Solano shot and killed Alvarez.
Videos show Alvarez had a gun in his hand, but had his back turned and was running away when Solano opened fire.
Chicago police have refused to say what prompted the chase or why officers were seeking Alvarez in the first place, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting and the circumstances surrounding it.
Grace’s explanation fits with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s remarks that the shooting was preceded by a traffic incident.
“We can’t live in a world where a minor traffic offense results in someone being shot and killed. That’s not acceptable to me, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone,” Lightfoot said on Wednesday.
Grace said the night of the shooting, officers pursued Alvarez in their car, and then decided to chase him on foot because they saw Alvarez grabbing at his pant leg, indicating that he was carrying a gun.
“Our city is awash with violence,” Grace said. “They’re being told at roll call, the biggest thing is to stop the violence, get the guns.”
Grace said the officers recognized Alvarez because he was a “known gang member in the Portage Park neighborhood.”
Attorneys for the Alvarez family pushed back strongly against Grace’s narrative of the night Alvarez was killed.
Tania Dimitrova, who said she has represented the Alvarez family for years, said she’s never seen or heard any indication that Alvarez was a gang member. And she said police have not produced any evidence of the attempted traffic stop the night before the shooting.
Dimitrova said she was “baffled” and “disturbed” by the allegations.
Attorney Todd Pugh noted that neither officer gave a reason on police reports for why they were pursuing Alvarez, and the officers did not radio in that they were getting out of their car to chase a suspect.
“And now with the help of their lawyer they’ve come up with this,” Pugh said. “They’ve had a month and they haven’t shown us a single report from a traffic stop the day before.”
Pugh also said the claim that the officers knew Alvarez is belied by the fact that neither officer is heard calling him by name on their body worn camera footage.
Police records indicate Solano fired five shots at Alvarez, hitting him twice — once in the back and once in the thigh.
Grace said despite the fact that Alvarez was running away when Solano fired, he believed the shooting was within police policy. Grace said Alvarez turned to look over his shoulder twice during the chase, which made Solano believe Alvarez was planning to shoot at him.
Pugh called the claim absurd.
“If he felt this rush of fear, perhaps we should go back to why the officer is running with his gun out. His gun is already out and you are trying to arrest someone for driving on a suspended license,” Pugh said.
Dimitrova said even if Grace is right about the reason for the chase — it doesn’t really change anything about what happened.
“Since when is having some type of gang affiliation or even pulling over someone for a suspended license reason to pursue that individual and gun them down. I mean, that’s just ridiculous,” Dimitrova said.