A tearful Latisha Jones described the night Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo accidentally fatally shot her mother, Bettie Jones. The dramatic testimony came at a hearing to determine whether Rialmo should be fired.
On Dec. 26, 2015, Rialmo shot and killed Jones and her 19-year-old neighbor, Quintonio LeGrier. Police had been called for a domestic disturbance in LeGrier’s apartment, but Jones opened the door and Rialmo said he accidentally shot her when LeGrier charged him with a baseball bat.
Latisha Jones said on Wednesday that she was going to open the front door for police, but her mother insisted: “I will open my own door.”
Latisha Jones said she heard a volley of gunshots moments later and assumed it was from nearby gang members. Once they stopped, she said she ran to tell her mother get down. Instead, she found her mother lying in the entrance of the apartment.
She testified that she initially thought her mother had passed out, but quickly realized she had been shot.
“When I moved my hand, I saw that it had blood on it,” she said.
Latisha Jones described hearing her mother gasping for breath and mimicked the sounds she made. She remembered telling her, “It’s OK, it’s OK, please fight it.”
Jones also described putting her hand on her mother’s wrist to check her pulse, and felt it slowing down. She said she did the same to LeGrier, and felt his heartbeat stop.
While comforting her mother, she testified that she feared Rialmo would shoot her, too.
During cross examination, attorney Jim Thompson asked Jones to look at a photo of the scene. It included two big blood stains from LeGrier and her mother. Latisha Jones immediately broke down crying. She ran out of the courtroom and could be heard weeping in the hallway.
Also Wednesday, Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th Ward, testified on Rialmo’s behalf, saying that the officer was a great kid and that the discipline process has been totally unfair to him. Sposato said the city and the media had committed “character assassination.”
On Monday, Rialmo testified he had no choice but to shoot LeGrier because the teenager was charging him with a bat. He said he was unable to warn Jones or aim away from her direction because she was standing behind LeGrier.
He admitted he didn’t try and give Jones life-saving aid, even though she was still breathing after being shot in the chest. Rialmo’s attorneys pointed out that he was not required to do so.
This week’s Police Board hearing is one of the last steps in an accountability process that started nearly four years ago. An investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability found that Rialmo was not justified in shooting LeGrier or Jones, and that he lied about aspects of the encounter. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson disagreed with those findings, saying Rialmo’s decision to shoot was within department policy, and that Jones’ accidental death was “tragic” but “nonetheless justified” because of the threat posed by LeGrier.
It’ll be up to the Chicago Police Board to decide if Rialmo violated policy and should be fired.
The hearing is scheduled to wrap up Thursday. After that video, transcripts and a report from a hearing officer will go to Police Board members to help inform their vote on whether Rialmo should lose his job.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.