Nearly a month after the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) released video and written reports about the fatal shooting of twenty-two-year-old Anthony Alvarez by Chicago Police officer Evan Solano, omissions and inconsistencies in Solano’s use-of-force report about the incident remain unexplained.
In that use-of-force Tactical Response Report (TRR), Solano, who shot Alvarez in the back, claimed Alvarez “used force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.” Solano also noted in the TRR that he was injured during the killing, but did not explain how.
The TRR is an official record of an involved officer’s version of events, and most importantly, explains why they made a decision to use force, according to Andrew Fan, chief operating officer at the Invisible Institute. Officers are required to fill out a TRR after they have used force against a person, or when a civilian says they’ve been injured by police.
Officers are only authorized to use force that is “objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional” and are required to utilize de-escalation tactics whenever possible. TRRs are firsthand accounts that COPA relies on, along with physical evidence and interviews with officers and witnesses, to determine whether a fatal shooting is justified.
In assessing use-of-force incidents, CPD directives state that officers must make “split-second” decisions and therefore their actions must be considered based on circumstances known at the time, and not “with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”
In 2017, after the police shooting of seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald and subsequent cover-up drew national outrage, the department amended their use-of-force directives updating TRR forms and establishing use of force as a “last resort.” CPD also emphasized that use of force should be limited when a subject is fleeing.
At the time, the reforms were hailed by politicians across the city, including Alderman Ariel Reboyras of the 30th Ward, where Alvarez was killed.
“The process used to develop this policy is an example of the police department’s commitment to reform and building the community trust,” Reboyras told ABC7.
Jason Van Dyke, the officer who fatally shot McDonald in 2014, was found to have filed a false TRR form, which along with other untrue statements, served to “exaggerate the threat McDonald posed,” according to the Chicago Inspector General’s report.
Van Dyke had marked boxes on the TRR indicating that McDonald posed an “imminent threat of battery” and that he used “force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.” Prosecutors alleged that additional TRR forms filed by other responding officers attempted to corroborate this false narrative and justify Van Dyke’s actions. The Office of the Inspector General recommended disciplinary action against sixteen officers, but CPD only fired four. The three officers accused of lying on police reports to cover up Van Dyke’s actions were acquitted of all charges.
A Justice Department report released in the wake of the murder of McDonald found that “the true details of a force encounter were often obscured by a lack of sufficient detail and the use of boilerplate language” in TRRs.
This week, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s report confirmed that Solano shot the five-foot-three, 127-pound Alvarez twice; one bullet hit him in the back, and the other in his thigh.
In Solano’s TRR, he claims that both he and his partner, Sammy Encarnacion, were facing a threatening assailant and were in “imminent” danger.
“CPD directives call for officers to assess the level of resistance that a person is displaying (ranging from not following officer commands to threatening an officer with deadly force) and to respond with an appropriate level of force,” according to the Invisible Institute.
The TRR records a subject’s actions and department member’s response from the perspective of the officer, and is then reviewed by supervisors, including the Force Review Unit, and ultimately submitted to COPA for their investigation.
Solano’s report alleged he sustained an injury during the encounter with Alvarez. The TRR gives examples of several types of injury, including swelling, pain, laceration, gunshot wound and others. There is also an option for officers to mark “no injury.”
He marked “Other,” meaning that none of the other boxes apply. When officers mark this box, they are supposed to explain the type of injury in the narrative section of the TRR, according to a spokesperson for CPD. The narrative section on Solano’s report was left blank.
Under CPD directives, if any section of the TRR is incomplete, review by a supervising officer and investigating supervisor should ensure completion. Supervising Officer Patrick Haran and Investigating Supervisor Cmdr. Ronald Pontecore, Jr. reviewed Solano’s report, according to the documents provided by COPA; still no explanation for Solano’s injury was given.
Solano’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the officer’s injury.
Solano also marked a box indicating that Alvarez “used force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.” Force is defined in CPD directives as physical contact and is reported differently than “threat of battery with a weapon,” which Solano also reported.
Body-worn camera footage and corresponding third-party surveillance footage, as well as a weapon recovered on the scene, do appear to confirm that Alvarez was in possession of a gun. But Solano reported on his TRR that the weapon was “displayed, not used.”
Solano also noted that Alvarez “committed assault or battery against officers performing a police function”; assault can mean there was tangible reason to believe a subject could cause harm and battery refers to physical contact, according to a CPD spokesperson. A request for clarification on which term better describes Alvarez’s actions was denied by Solano’s attorney.
Video footage captured by a home-security system and Solano’s body camera, and subsequently released by COPA, shows a disturbing scene: Alvarez walking through a gas station, shopping bags in hand, when an unmarked police vehicle approaches him. He drops his bags and runs, with officers on foot and chasing close behind.
About two blocks from the gas station, Alvarez turns a corner and crosses a neighbor’s yard, and Solano—who had lost his eyeglasses during the chase—shouts at him to drop his weapon a moment before shooting him in the back. Alvarez appears to be holding a handgun, but in the footage COPA released is never seen pointing his weapon at officers.
In Alvarez’s last moments, he asks Solano, “Why are you shooting me?”
The video does not show any physical contact between the police and Alvarez until after he is shot. As Alvarez lay bleeding on a neighbor’s walkway, Solano attempts to handcuff him before being stopped by his partner, who says they must first render medical aid. Later, Solano tells Encarnacion that his eyeglasses fell off “in the alley,” indicating he lost them before he shot Alvarez.
Steven Fine, one of the attorneys representing the Alvarez family, said that the officer’s body-camera video speaks for itself. Alvarez does not make any aggressive actions or movements and never turns back towards Solano during the pursuit, he said.
“When Anthony asks, ‘Why are you shooting me?’ and the officer responds ‘because you had a gun,’ that statement is inconsistent with a reasonable officer being concerned for their safety,” Fine said. “The TRR is completely self-serving.”
Madison Muller is a graduate student of social justice journalism at Northwestern University. She last reported on media descriptions of children killed by CPD