The Chicago police officer who fatally shot Anthony Alvarez in late March alleged that he was the victim in a road-rage incident last month that involved him taking his gun out of his holster, police reports show.
Officer Evan Solano was on his way to work when he got into the confrontation with the motorist in Logan Square on May 21. Solano reported he unholstered his pistol after he noticed a motorist who threatened to beat him up in traffic had a knife strapped to his leg, the newly obtained reports show.
In light of the Alvarez shooting, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability had recommended to Chicago police officials that Solano be relieved of his police powers, an action that would require the officer to forfeit his badge and gun for work purposes while assigned to paid desk duty. But police Superintendent David Brown has not acted on COPA’s recommendation, and Solano is still allowed to carry a gun for work, though he’s on desk duty, a police spokesman said.
On May 21 about 6:15 p.m., Solano was heading to work in his red 2005 Ford Mustang, clad in his uniform with other clothing over it, when he was at a stop sign at Logan Boulevard and Richmond Street, according to the police reports. The documents were released to the Tribune on Thursday through an open-records request.
In one of the reports, known as an “original case report,” Solano is identified as the victim, and the other driver, a South Carolina man with a 2011 white Honda Pilot SUV, is listed as a suspect.
In that report, Solano told police he was in his Mustang behind the Honda as its driver was stopped in traffic and watching the aftermath of an auto accident. Solano honked his horn to tell the other motorist to drive, the report stated, and that driver got out and approached Solano in “an aggressive manner” while making threats including, “I’m gonna kick your (expletive).”
Solano said the other driver moved back and forth, and continued to threaten the officer by saying, “Get out of your car or I’m gonna pull you out of your car,” and reiterated that he’d beat him up. In another report, Solano alleged the driver was “pacing back and forth with his muscles tensed” and yelled at him “so aggressively that his inadvertent spit” hit the officer.
Solano claimed in the case report he was “in fear of his safety” when he saw the other driver had a large knife strapped to his leg.
“Evan, an off-duty police officer, exited his vehicle, removed his button up shirt which then revealed (his) uniform shirt with (badge) displayed, and unholstered firearm and held it in a low ready position,” according to the report.
But according to one report, at least one witness saw Solano point his gun at the other driver while that driver had his hands raised.
Solano removed his handcuffs and was about to place the suspect into custody when he saw the two small children in the Honda, one report said. Solano then declined to pursue charges in part because he saw the children and noticed the driver was the only adult with them.
“(The other driver) immediately calmed down and stated he had his kids in the vehicle,” the report stated. It also stated Solano called 911.
The case report also lists seven witnesses to the incident, categorized as a simple assault. But their names, as well as the other driver’s, are redacted. Comprehensive police interviews of people involved in crimes such as victims, witnesses or suspects are often documented in so called “supplemental reports.” But the department would not provide those reports of the May 21 incident to the Tribune.
Video footage from the cellphones of passersby doesn’t show all of the details Solano mentioned in the police reports released on Thursday. The existence of the video footage was first reported last week by Block Club Chicago.
In the footage, which went viral on social media, Solano and the other motorist argued as passersby looked on, including one who told Solano to holster his gun and leave the area.
“Dude, I have no weapon. I did not touch you,” the other motorist can be heard shouting at Solano.
“You threatened me with (a) knife,” the officer replied.
“No, I did not,” the other motorist can be heard saying. “I did not threaten you at all. You pulled a gun on me. I’ve got kids in the car.”
After he holstered his gun, Solano then says to one person apparently filming the encounter, “Did you not catch him yelling at me the whole time?”
A tactical response report obtained by the Tribune, which officers have to fill out whenever any kind of physical force or threats occur between police and citizens, was reviewed by a Chicago police supervisor who checked a box indicating that Solano’s actions were “in compliance” with department policy. But that finding by Lt. Andrew Block was based on preliminary information, the documents show, and he also indicated that COPA needed to be notified about the incident.
A COPA spokesman has said the agency referred the case to the Chicago police’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.
It’s not clear in the tactical response report what evidence was reviewed by Block to make an early indication that Solano was in compliance with CPD policy. But Block noted in the report, “there may be the possibility of additional information, not known to (him), at the time of this report: audio and video evidence, written reports,” among other things.
“... Consideration is given to the fact that officers are forced to make split second decisions, often under extreme and stressful and dynamic,” Block said in the report, which he authored hours after video of the incident was posted on Twitter.
On Thursday, Timothy Grace, Solano’s lawyer, called the incident a “big nothing” and said his client’s actions were in self-defense.
“I think he used good discretion,” Grace said of Solano’s decision to not have the other driver arrested. “Evan didn’t want to get into a fight with the guy.”
But Todd Pugh, an attorney representing the Alvarez family, noted how the details in the reports sound “one-sided” in favor of Solano and that he’s eager to hear the version of events from the other motorist and more people who were on the scene.
Pugh also said he’d like to know more about a witness account in the tactical response report indicating that Solano pointed his gun at the other motorist, a detail that conflicts with Solano saying in the case report that he held his gun in a low ready position.
“Is this how Chicago police clear a (tactical response report) just based upon what the officer reports and nobody else?” Pugh said.
Solano shot and killed Alvarez, 22, on March 31 in the Portage Park neighborhood after chasing him on foot in the 5200 block of West Eddy Street.
According to police body-camera footage released by COPA, officers can be seen running down an alley first, then bearing down on Alvarez as they turn a corner onto a small lawn. Third-party camera footage from a security camera from the home Alvarez was shot in front of shows him release a gun as he falls to the ground, and police have said a gun was found at the scene.
An autopsy report shows that Alvarez was shot in his back and left thigh.