The city agency in charge of deciding on the most serious cases of Chicago police misconduct is set to announce Thursday whether Officer Robert Rialmo will be fired for shooting to death 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and LeGrier’s 55-year-old neighbor Bettie Jones.
The shooting in the early morning hours after Christmas 2015 was the first fatal shooting by Chicago police after the momentous release of dashcam video showing the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Because of that, many saw the shooting as the first test of the city’s pledge to reform its police accountability systems, while police and their supporters fretted that political pressure would doom Rialmo to undeserved punishment.
Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which was created in the wake of the McDonald video release, found that Rialmo was unjustified in shooting. But Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson disagreed, writing in a letter that it was reasonable and within policy.
The Chicago Police Board is scheduled to make the final decision at its monthly meeting Thursday evening.
The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file Chicago cops, put out an “alert” about Thursday’s meeting, calling for “as many members to attend as possible.”
The board’s decision on Rialmo “could have a powerful influence on a police officer’s right to defend himself from great bodily harm,” the alert reads.
Rialmo killed LeGrier and Jones while responding to a domestic disturbance call from LeGrier’s father, who lived in the apartment above Jones in a two-flat in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Jones opened the door for Rialmo and pointed them toward the upstairs apartment where LeGrier and his father were fighting.
Rialmo said immediately after that, LeGrier came charging down the stairs at him with a baseball bat, forcing him to open fire, killing the teenager and accidentally killing Jones.
The board’s decision will be based on evidence presented at an evidentiary hearing held over the summer.
During that three-day hearing, which is set up like a criminal trial, Rialmo testified that he had no choice but to shoot LeGrier and did not have time to warn Jones before he shot.
Rialmo’s attorney, Tim Grace, said Jones’ death was a tragedy, but should be blamed on LeGrier because his actions forced Rialmo to shoot.
But city attorney Sarah Lash said that although LeGrier had a bat, he was not close enough to Rialmo to threaten the officer’s life. Lash said Rialmo acted “in reckless disregard for the very thing he swore to protect, which was Bettie Jones’ life.”
Also during the hearing, Jones’ daughter Latisha Jones wept as she described her mother’s last moments, with Latisha Jones pleading for her mom to “please fight it.”
Then, she said, she put her hand on her mother’s wrist to check her pulse and felt it slowing down.
Latisha Jones testified that while she was comforting her mother, she feared Rialmo would shoot her, too.