Lawsuit claims failure to implement foot-chase policy leaves city, police responsible for death of Anthony Alvarez

·7 min read

The family of Anthony Alvarez, a man killed by police during a foot chase in March, has filed a lawsuit alleging the city bears responsibility for his death in part because the Chicago Police Department had no policy on such pursuits — a set of guidelines still being finalized nearly a year after the shooting.

“The city’s failure to implement a foot-chase policy and its support of a policing culture of impunity were the driving force behind the (officers’) unconstitutional actions,” according the lawsuit, filed in federal court by the mother of Anthony Alvarez’s young daughter.

The suit was filed Wednesday afternoon, about a month shy of the anniversary of the shooting of Alvarez, a 22-year-old father who was part of a large extended Mexican American family on the Northwest Side.

Alvarez was shot while moving away from Evan Solano, the officer pursuing him, who was yelling at him to “drop the gun,” a video of the shooting released last year showed. Solano fired shots, and footage shows Alvarez drop a pistol as he fell to the ground. He was shot in the back and thigh, an autopsy later revealed.

Alvarez did not threaten the officers or anyone else, and police had no valid reason to stop him or chase him night, the lawsuit states. The city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suit.

The shooting that killed Alvarez happened just days after Chicago police shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo during another fatal foot chase,. The two shootings touched off waves of protests and demands around the city for the department to change its policies around such pursuits. Both the mayor and police leaders pledged an overhaul as the department’s policies were found to be out of step with other large departments.

Just this week, the Chicago Police Department was in the final stages of setting a new policy, collecting public input on changes that would restrict when and how officers can pursue suspects on foot.

The city knew that police foot pursuits were potentially dangerous for years but dragged its feet on implementing a policy that outlines when they are appropriate, according to the lawsuit.

“Deaths like Anthony’s were foreseeable, given the lack of official policy at the time of his death,” attorneys for Alvarez’s family said in a news release Wednesday. “Even now, the city is struggling to finalize and implement a foot pursuit policy.”

Giselle Higuere filed the suit on behalf of Alvarez’s estate and on behalf of their daughter, 3-year-old Ailani Alvarez.

Alvarez helped Higuere pay her rent, helped care for their daughter and though they were separated they had family outings with Ailani, Higuere told the Tribune on Wednesday.

Higuere said she keeps a photo in her bedroom of Ailani and Anthony. Now that Ailani’s learning to talk, she sometimes asks about him, Higuere said.

“She decides to ask what happened to her dad and why doesn’t she see him anymore,” she said. “So that kind of makes it a little tough when you don’t know what to say to your kid.”

Higuere said she hopes the lawsuit will pressure the Police Department to make changes to its foot-pursuit policy, and that she feels the family will get justice if Solano is put in jail.

The city also has long failed to investigate and discipline police officers for wrongdoing, which “results in the culture and endemic attitude among members of the Chicago Police Department ... that they may engage in excessive force against the citizenry with impunity and without fear of official consequence,” the suit alleges.

The shootings of Alvarez and Toledo were also captured on video, including on officer body cameras. Footage from both shootings was released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency that is investigating the shootings.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office also is reviewing whether criminal charges against the officers in those shootings might be appropriate; as of Wednesday, prosecutors’ investigations were still pending, according to a spokeswoman for the office.

The Alvarez family’s suit names the city and Police Department as defendants along with Solano and his partner. Solano was stripped of his police powers a couple of months after the shooting.

Every week for almost a year, Oscar Martinez has replaced the flowers on his son’s altar with fresh ones. A framed photo of Alvarez sits on an elevated shelf with the two flower vases, a statue of the Virgin Mary and burning candles.

Alvarez would have turned 23 on Valentine’s Day.

“They took a part of me, of my life, that I’ll never get back,” Martinez said. “I feel an emptiness inside me.”

His family hopes his death and the lawsuit will lead to change for the Police Department and for the city of Chicago, Martinez said. They also hope it brings them some justice and closure, he said.

“What I want more than anything is that there be justice,” Martinez said. “Even as time passes we won’t stop pushing for justice.”

Alvarez’s mother Veronica told the Tribune that a ruling in favor of the family in the lawsuit would help fulfill one of her son’s dreams: to make sure his daughter is always taken care of.

“One of the dreams that my son always had was that his daughter would get ahead, that his daughter would get an education, that his daughter would not lack for anything,” she said. “He was always attentive to that, that his daughter had everything.”

Footage of the shooting released last year shows much of the lead-up to the chase, as well as the moment Alvarez was shot.

Security footage overlooking a nearby gas station showed Alvarez walking through its lot with what appears to be a plastic bag when an unmarked police SUV, with its emergency lights flashing, abruptly advances toward him.

Police had no legitimate reason to try to stop Alvarez, the suit states — he was not seen breaking any law, and was not wanted for any felonies. Driving toward him that way was an “aggressive and unwarranted tactic,” according to the lawsuit.

An attorney for Solano, Tim Grace, told the Tribune last year that the officers had tried to curb Alvarez’s car the night before, but he fled and they decided not to pursue him, Grace said.

When they again spotted Alvarez the night of the shooting, they tried to stop him again, Grace said, and eventually chased him on foot. Solano believed Alvarez was turning to shoot him when he opened fire, Grace has told the Tribune.

Another third-party camera shows Alvarez running from the gas station onto a sidewalk while the police SUV follows him on the street. Alvarez then can be seen making his way through an alley, where footage captured the ensuing foot pursuit.

On the police body-camera footage released by COPA, officers can be seen running down an alley at first, then bearing down on Alvarez as they turn a corner onto a small lawn.

Footage from what appears to be a security camera from the home Alvarez was shot in front of shows him running into the frame, stumbling as the officer gains ground. The video is clear enough to see the muzzle flash from Solano as he fires.

“Hey! Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” Solano yelled, according to his body-camera video, and raised his own weapon to fire five shots.

Alvarez collapsed to the ground in a front yard, moaning in pain. “Why are you shooting me?” he said.

“Because you had a gun!” the officer responded.

The footage also shows Alvarez let go of a gun as he falls to the ground, and police have said they recovered a pistol at the scene.

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