By Erick Johnson
In a decision that divided an intense crowd, the Chicago Police Board voted 7-0 to fire Officer Robert Rialmo for killing Bettie Jones, an innocent Black woman who was gunned down along with Quintonio LeGrier in a high-profile shooting that happened nearly four years on the Chicago’s West Side.
Black leaders, including Rev. Marshall Hatch and activists listened to the ruling in a room filled with police officers. Hatcher presided over Jones’ packed funeral at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the West Side. While Hatch, friends and supporters of the victims sat on one side of the room, Rialmo’s supporters sat on the other side. The room was quiet as Board President Ghian Foreman read excerpts from the ruling.
“Upon examination of the facts of this case, the Board finds that when Officer Rialmo fired his gun in the direction of Bettie Jones, he had the ability to safely reposition himself even farther than he already had from Mr. LeGrier. Had Officer Rialmo done so, he could have neutralized the threat posed by Quintonio LeGrier, and Bettie Jones would be alive today.”
Two of the nine board members recused themselves from voting.
The ruling disappointed Rialmo’s supporters. During the public comment portion of the meeting, their statements drew several heated remarks from Jones and LeGrier’s supporters, forcing one officer to warn them several times to remain silent or face being thrown out of the meeting. Rialmo’s supporters however, remained in disbelief that the officer will no longer have a job on the force.
“I can’t believe your decision,” said Nicholas Sposato, who drew applause after he spoke. “Bobby was a friend of mine. I’ve known him since he was five. My opinion is that this was a terrible decision.”
FOP Lodge 7 2nd Vice President Martin Preib said the board made “a despicable, depraved and cowardly decision” that would endanger police officers across the city.
In a statement, Sydney Roberts, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, said “This is an important day for the citizens of the City of Chicago. The conclusion of this unfortunate matter is also an important day for civilian oversight of law enforcement.”
Rialmo shot Jones and LeGrier one month after the city released the infamous video of Laquan McDonald’s brutal murder. LeGrier’s father called police after he had barricaded himself in his unit as his 19-year old son tried to enter it with an aluminum baseball bat. His son, who was a student at Northern Illinois University, was experiencing a mental health episode at the time. LeGrier’s father asked Jones, 55, his neighbor to open the doors for the officers when they arrive. When the officers entered the building, LeGrier rushed downstairs with the bat as Jones walked upstairs. Both were shot dead.
No criminal charges were brought against Rialmo. The defunct Independent Police Review Agency ruled the shooting unjustified and recommended termination, but Superintendent Eddie Johnson disagreed, saying Rialmo feared for his life.
Both families sued Rialmo and the city. Jones’ estate was given a $16 million settlement. In 2018, a Cook County jury initially awarded the LeGrier’s father just over $1 million, but the award was taken away when jurors told him that the shooting was justified.
Rialmo is the latest police officer who was fired by the police board this year for misconduct. In July, the board unanimously voted to fire four police officers after they were accused of filing false reports to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who killed McDonald in 2014 after shooting him 16 times. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018. He is currently serving nearly seven years in jail.
The board on Thursday, planned to rule on whether to terminate Van Dyke, but the officer officially submitted his resignation the day before the meeting.