The investigation has taken two years, but the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) has ruled the Chicago shootings of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones as unjustified.
Police documents stated that police responded to a domestic disturbance call of the West Side, on Dec. 26, 2015. As police arrived on the scene, LeGrier approached officers swinging an aluminum baseball bat. Officer Robert Rialmo shot the 19-year-old and accidently hit Jones, the 55-year-old neighbor, who was standing near LeGrier.
The investigation and the evidence from the scene suggest that Rialmo was not honest with his accounts of the situation. Rialmo said LeGrier fell into an apartment vestibule swinging the bat, when Rialmo opened fire from the front porch. Truthfully, it appears Rialmo fired from somewhere between the bottom of the porch and the sidewalk.
The investigation determined that “a reasonable officer would not have believed he was in danger or serious injury or death.
COPA does not disclose their suggestions for punishment immediately, however, typically the agency recommends officers are fired in the case of an unjustified shooting.
Superintendent Eddie Johnson has three months to decide what disciplinary action to take, if any. The Chicago Police Board rules on the side of serious discipline for officers. However, the decisions of the board can be appealed through the court system.
The Chicago Police Department had not finished reviewing the case and declined to speak on the matter.
Joel Brodsky, attorney for Rialmo, said the conclusion proves the evidence was misleading. LeGrier appeared to be having a crisis and descended from the stairs with a baseball bat, early in the morning, after an incident of domestic violence. That was the evidence Rialmo had to go on.
Given that evidence, Brodsky challenged anyone not to feel threatened. He stated, “This is a political decision, not one based on the evidence… This has got nothing to do with facts.” He is anxiously awaiting to challenge anyone who attempts to fire Rialmo.
Janet Cooksey, LeGrier’s mother, was relieved to hear the ruling confirmed her belief that her son did not provoke the shooting. Cooksey said every time the shooting was discussed LeGrier was blamed for Jones’ death.
Two weeks ago, the City of Chicago brought forth a lawsuit that shifted blame from the city to LeGrier’s estate. The Chicago Tribune reported on the lawsuit, and then it was dropped. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he did not know about the lawsuit, but he thought it was callous.
It has been suggested that a lawsuit that blames LeGrier for the shooting could complicate the disciplinary action against Rialmo.
This shooting has gained nationwide attention because it involved the death of a bystander. It is also the first police-involved shooting since the courts mandated the release of the video of an officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, in November 2015.
At 4:30 a.m., on Dec. 26, 2015, Rialmo and his partner responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment in the 4700 block of West Erie Street. LeGrier was staying at the address with his father. Le Grier was a student at Northern Illinois University. He has a history of run-ins with the police and altercations with other students, according to police records.
LeGrier’s mental health has been a focal point of the investigation. Before the city lawsuit was dropped, it stated that LeGrier had not taken his medication that controlled an unspecified mental illness.
Jones, the downstairs neighbor, opened the door for Rialmo and his partner and pointed them toward the second floor. LeGrier came down the stairs with the aluminum baseball bat. In response, the officers backed up onto the front landing. Rialmo continued to back down the stairs as he fired his gun eight times.
According to the investigation, LeGrier was hit six times. Jones was standing behind LeGrier and was shot once in the chest.
Rialmo has told the court that he knew Jones was behind the 19-year-old student when he fired. However, Brodsky said his client was justified because he was shooting in self-defense.
Rialmo’s partner and the investigation did not corroborate Rialmo’s account of the incident. In his first statement, Rialmo did not even say LeGrier was swinging the bat. Rialmo also have multiple locations in relation to LeGrier when the bat was swung.
Brodsky stated that COPA was focused on discrepancies that are irrelevant to the incident. The officer was further away from the college student when he fired his gun. Rialmo gave differing accounts but stated he was on the porch steps. An eyewitness, however, put him on the sidewalk – 10 feet from the bottom of the porch steps.
Immediately after the shooting, LeGrier’s father said he saw the officer 20 to 30 feet from the doorway. Additionally, shell casings were between the porch and the sidewalk, according to the COPA investigation.
Even if LeGrier was swinging the bat, and advancing toward officers, the shooting was unjustified because they were a reasonable distance from LeGrier.
At the time of the incident, Rialmo was not carrying a Taser. COPA ruled that was a violation of department policy. He did not maintain his certification to use the Taser.
Aside from the investigation, there have been a barrage of lawsuits between the LeGrier family, the Jones family, and the city. Even Rialmo filed a lawsuit against the city. He stated he was not adequately trained. He is also suing the LeGrier estate, stating the shooting was the fault of LeGrier and it has caused emotional trauma for the officer.
After the shooting, Rialmo was supposed to be placed on desk duty indefinitely. However, due to an error, he was back out on the street for the summer of 2016. Four months later, he was returned to desk duty.
Officials said it was an administrative oversight and disciplined a district commander. The Chicago Tribune notes that it was interesting he was allowed to return to his beat given his lawsuit against the city claimed he was poorly trained.
By Jeanette Smith
Daily Chronicle: 2015 shooting of NIU student by Chicago police ruled unjustified
Chicago Tribune: Chicago police watchdog rules 2015 shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones was unjustified
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