EXPLAINER: Is it legal to shoot suspects in the back?

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

Seconds after Anthony Alvarez was shot from behind by a Chicago police officer, the fatally wounded 22-year-old looked over at the officer and asked: “Why you shooting me?” The officer answered, “You had a gun.”

The dramatic exchange captured on video released Wednesday encapsulated a broader issue about whether the shooting of suspects in the back as they are running away is ever justified.

State laws and Supreme Court precedent permits it under certain circumstances, though the fact a fleeing suspect has a gun doesn’t automatically make such a shooting legal.

Here’s a look at the laws and how they might be relevant to the March 31 killing of Alvarez.

ARE THERE DISPUTED FACTS?

From the multiple videos released by Chicago’s independent police review board, there’s no disputing Alvarez had a gun. It’s clearly visible.

The officer and a partner had just chased Alvarez down an alley when, after they emerged onto a residential sidewalk, the officer yelled at Alvarez: “Drop the gun!” The officer then shot at Alvarez, who crumpled to the ground.

A police report identified the officer as Evan Solano, 29. The officer had recognized Alvarez from another incident the day before during which Alvarez fled, and he started chasing Alvarez on foot on March 31, the head of Chicago's police union, John Catanzara, has said.