Crusader Staff Report
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rejected a recommendation by a police watchdog agency to fire a police officer who killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones two years ago.
The decision, which the city asked to be sealed by a Cook County Judge, shocked Chicago’s Black aldermen and Saint Sabina’s Father Michael Pfleger, who condemned the Johnson decision.
In a March 22 letter, Johnson said he disagrees with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) on its recommendation to fire Officer Robert Rialmo.
Johnson said Rialmo was justified in killing LeGrier, saying that he was defending his life from the 19-year- old, who reportedly had a baseball bat when police arrived at his West Side home December 26, 2015. An autopsy showed that LeGrier had been shot six times.
COPA has 15 days to talk with Johnson and submit a rebuttal.
The letter was obtained by several news outlets after Cook County Judge James O’Hara granted city attorneys’ request to keep the letter sealed for now.
Chicago’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, supports Johnson’s decision to back Rialmo.
The shooting is a high-profile case that occurred just one month after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a video showing another Chicago police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.
City attorneys and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez suppressed that video for a year, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned for the Black vote for his reelection. Emanuel is up for reelection again in 2019.
The LeGrier case has raised new questions about transparency and threatens to ruin Emanuel’s reelection efforts.
He and the Chicago Police Department remain under heavy pressure to implement reforms after the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report on the department’s treatment of Blacks and minorities.
After Johnson’s decision to back Rialmo became public, Pfleger tweeted his response.
“Both saddened and outraged at Supterintendent Johnson’s decision to disagree with COPA’s decision to fire Officer Rialmo and calling his killing of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones JUSTIFIED…. This is why building relations with the community and police is so difficult….”
Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, in news reports branded it a “bad shooting” and said he cannot see how Johnson could justify his support of Rialmo.
“I don’t think shooting him was a responsible thing to do,” Sawyer said in the Sun-Times. “The bullet that hit Bettie Jones obviously was not meant for her. But still, all she was trying to do was open the door . . . I don’t see under any situation where that shooting would be justified,” Sawyer said.
Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward) was reportedly stunned when she learned of the Johnson’s decision. “There will be a backlash because two people got killed — an innocent bystander and a mentally-ill person,” Mitts said in the Sun-Times. “People will be upset about it. They’ll think he should have been found guilty — not have the shooting ruled justifiable.”
Rialmo was one of the officers who responded to a 911 call at LeGrier’s father’s West Side home. Rialmo said he shot LeGrier when the teen, who reportedly suffered from mental illness, came down the stairs swinging a baseball bat at him. Jones, an innocent bystander, was fatally shot as she stood between Rialmo and LeGrier during the encounter.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2017 declined to bring charges against Rialmo, saying, “there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer [Robert] Rialmo did not act in self-defense in shooting LeGrier and Jones.”
Last December, the city tried to sue LeGrier’s estate, saying the teenager was responsible for the fatal shooting of Jones. But the city withdrew its plans and Mayor Emanuel apologized to the father of LeGrier.
COPA concluded months ago that Rialmo was unjustified in shooting LeGrier, saying that the teenager never swung the bat at the officer and cited forensic evidence inconsistent with the officer’s story.
COPA’s ruling stated that a “reasonable officer” would not have felt threatened by the encounter that lead to the shooting.
LeGrier’s father and Jones’ family filed separate wrongful death lawsuits against the city within weeks of the shooting.