A Cook County jury invalidated its own million dollar verdict in the police shooting case of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier on Wednesday, and that was just the latest bizarre twist in a legal battle full of them.
Here’s a look at some of the most surprising moments from this case, which stretched on for more than two years, encompassing four separate lawsuits, and involving six different law firms.
1. Wait, the jury invalidated its own verdict?
Yep. The jury awarded $1 million to LeGrier’s family in their wrongful death suit, but when filling out the verdict form, the jury also found that Officer Robert Rialmo was in reasonable fear for his life when he shot LeGrier. The judge ruled that answer invalidated the million dollar award because if RIalmo was in fear for his life, then he was legally justified in shooting – which means there can be no wrongful death payout.
LeGrier family attorney Bill Foutris said they are weighing their legal options. The family has up to 30 days to ask the judge to reconsider her judgment that the million dollar award was not valid.
2. ‘I was looking down’
LeGrier was killed on December 26, 2015, after Rialmo and his partner, Officer Anthony LaPalermo, responded to a 911 call by LeGrier’s father, who said his son was banging on his bedroom door with a bat. When the officers arrived at the home on the 4700 block of West Erie Street, LeGrier’s downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, answered the door and told them “it’s upstairs.”
Both Rialmo and LaPalermo testified during the trial that immediately after Jones opened the door, they heard LeGrier rushing down the stairs. That prompted both officers to step backward, with Rialmo in front of LaPalermo.
Rialmo said LeGrier charged at him with a bat. Rialmo testified that he shouted 10 times for LeGrier to drop the bat and then shot LeGrier when he refused,killing LeGrier and accidentally killing Jones.
LaPalermo, however, testified that he didn’t witness several key parts of the shooting even though he was standing next to Rialmo. LaPalermo said he did not see LeGrier swing the bat, did not hear Rialmo tell LeGrier to drop the bat, and did not see any of the shots fired, because he was looking down and retreating backwards during the shooting.
Foutris blasted LaPalermo as uncredible, and said he was lying to cover for his partner.
“He wasn’t looking down. He saw something he wasn’t supposed to see. He saw a bad shoot,” Foutris said during his closing arguments.
Attorneys for the city countered that LaPalermo’s inconsistencies bolstered his credibility, because if he was truly lying to cover for Rialmo, he would have claimed he saw the whole thing.
3. ‘You can’t believe anything this man says’
Rialmo’s credibility was a big point of contention in the case. His description of the shooting changed several times between the night it happened and the trial.
On the witness stand, he contradicted what he told city investigators about where he was standing when he fired his first shot.
Attorneys for the LeGrier family claimed Rialmo kept changing his story to fit better with physical evidence and place himself closer to LeGrier, and in more danger, when he shot.
The defense said Rialmo was inconsistent on small details because he was asked to repeatedly recount a life-threatening event that lasted only seconds.
4. The bat
The aluminum baseball bat LeGrier was holding when he was shot played a huge role in the trial. It was often leaned up against the wall right next to LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey.
The bat was used as a prop in seven out of the eight days of trial. City attorneys picked it up and swung it to demonstrate the danger facing Rialmo. Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, wielded it to try and demonstrate potential positions LeGrier could have been in when he was shot. And LeGrier attorneys used it to try and demonstrate that Rialmo’s version of the shooting didn’t make sense based on the distance he described.
5. ‘Suicide by cop’
In an unusual move, Brodsky, the attorney for Rialmo, waited until closing arguments to present a brand new theory of the shooting: that LeGrier was trying to be killed by police. It had not been mentioned before Brodsky’s closing argument and was not mentioned again.
6. The accidental shooting of Bettie Jones
When Rialmo shot at LeGrier, he also shot and killed LeGrier’s neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones. Her family sued the city, and the case was combined with the LeGrier lawsuit. The two were scheduled to go to trial together, but the city settled the lawsuit with Jones’ family just days before the trial for $16 million.
7. Rialmo shouldn’t have even responded to the call that night
Rialmo and LaPalermo were working the transport van the night of the shooting. That means they weren’t supposed to respond to dispatches. But there was a different police shooting earlier that night in the same West Side district, and most of the patrol cars were on the scene there. That meant Rialmo and LaPalermo had to cover for them by responding to routine calls, like the domestic disturbance call that brought them to LeGrier’s house.
8. Now that it’s over, what does the verdict mean for Rialmo?
The verdict on Wednesday is not the end of Rialmo’s legal troubles, and it doesn’t close the book on this shooting.
Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, determined Rialmo’s shooting of LeGrier was unjustified, and that Rialmo lied about key parts of the situation. They recommended firing Rialmo. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rejected that recommendation, but ultimately the decision is up to the Chicago Police Board.
Rialmo is also facing misdemeanor battery charges for a bar fight and faces potential termination for that, too.
9. And what does it mean for Superintendent Johnson?
It means that a jury viewed the facts of this case, and sided with Johnson’s view of the shooting.
The shooting came one month after the video release of the infamous Laquan McDonald shooting, and while the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the Chicago Police Department. In fact, it was the first fatal police shooting after the video release and there were two people killed. That put a lot of pressure on the city to come down hard on Rialmo. Instead they vigorously defended this lawsuit.
Johnson’s decision to reject COPA’s findings and unilaterally determine the LeGrier shooting was justified was cheered by the police union, but it was a political risk. Now Johnson’s not alone in saying the shooting was justified.