SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - Police oversight investigators have ruled that Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo was “not justified” when he opened fire on Quintonio LeGrier two years ago in the vestibule of a West Side home, a shooting that left the teen and a 55-year-old bystander dead, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
Investigators found no evidence to back up Rialmo’s story that he was prompted to shoot when LeGrier swung a bat while running at him, according to a Civilian Office of Police Accountability report released Thursday. Bettie Jones was “tragically” killed by an errant gunshot, police have said.
COPA investigators said they found “no evidence” to support Rialmo’s assertions that any of the shots he fired on Dec. 26, 2015 were necessary. After the incident, Rialmo had claimed LeGrier, 19, swung a baseball bat at him.
But Thursday’s report said Rialmo’s statements were “inconsistent and ultimately unreliable.”
The investigators also say evidence they reviewed suggested that Rialmo was further from Legrier than he said he was when he fired.
Legrier was shot dead in the front-entrance vestibule of the apartment building where he was staying with his father.
“We find a reasonable officer in Officer Rialmo’s position would not have believed he was in imminent harm of death or great bodily harm at the time Officer Rialmo began firing his weapon,” the investigators stated.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson now has up to 90 days to decide whether to recommend Rialmo’s firing to the Chicago Police Board, which metes out punishment in officer misconduct cases.
“We take discipline very seriously but, it would be premature for the department to make any comments until our review is complete,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.
But COPA’s report vindicated the long-running assertions of Legrier’s father, Antonio, who was at home when Rialmo shot his son and Jones, his tenant in the building he owned.
Basileios “Bill” Foutris, the lawyer for Antonio Legrier, blasted police and lawyers for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Thursday, saying they should stop perpetuating the CPD’s “code of silence” that has enveloped this and other shootings by officers.
“They tried to cover this up from Day 1,” Foutris said. “They’ve been lying about what happened from Day 1. This is the first step in clearing the air and setting the record straight.”
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on the day of the shootings, Antonio Legrier said Rialmo “knew he had shot, blindly, reckless into the doorway and now two people are dead because of it.”
“COPA’s findings are exactly what Antonio and Quintonio’s family have been saying to you since that day,” Foutris said Thursday. “It’s the exact opposite of what the city has been saying since then.
“The city’s Law Department is now the only thing preventing Quintonio’s family from getting closure. It’s past time for the city to acknowledge that Quintonio was unlawfully shot and to issue a full and unconditional apology to his family.”
The shootings of Legrier and Jones came about a month after the city finally released video of an officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the South Side.
Rialmo, who was taken off the street and assigned to desk duty in the wake of the shooting, has sued LeGrier’s family and the city, citing emotional trauma and improper training. He has continued to collect his $84,054 salary, city payroll records show.
The city also filed suit against LeGrier’s estate, a move that was quickly rescinded last week and decried as a “callous” mistake by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
In February, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced it would not pursue criminal charges against Rialmo.
“After thorough review, the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Rialmo did not act in self-defense in shooting LeGrier and Jones,” a statement read.
The decision outraged Jones’ and LeGrier’s families, who have sued Rialmo and the city in civil court. At the time, LeGrier’s father said he was “appalled” by the failure to prosecute and the fact that Rialmo had not been fired from the police department.
Police reports obtained by the Sun-Times had indicated that Rialmo gave shifting accounts of the Dec. 26, 2015, shooting in interviews with detectives.
Rialmo and his partner, Anthony LaPalermo, arrived at the home of the elder LeGrier around 4:38 a.m. after he and his son had both placed calls to 911. The cops were driving a police van that wasn’t equipped with a GPS tracking device or dashcam when they pulled up to the two-flat at 4710 W. Erie, the newly obtained records show.
Jones — Antonio LeGrier’s downstairs neighbor — let police in. Police have said she was accidentally killed when Rialmo opened fire.
According to Rialmo’s interview less than two hours after the shooting, he said he rang the doorbell, and Jones motioned that there was trouble upstairs. Jones, 55, “turned to walk back into her apartment” when “Quintonio LeGrier pulled the front door all the way open” with the bat above his head. He’d been staying with his dad while on break from Northern Illinois University.
“Rialmo started to back up as LeGrier started onto the front porch” and drew his gun while ordering LeGrier to drop the bat. “Rialmo in fear of his life discharged his weapon three to four times. … Rialmo stated he was stepping backwards down the stairs while discharging his service weapon and stopped at the bottom of the [porch] stairs on the walkway leading to the house.”
But COPA investigators now say Rialmo was much further from Legrier, between the curb in front of the apartment building and the stairs.
The Cook County medical examiner later determined that LeGrier was shot six times and Bettie Jones once.
Antonio LeGrier had come down from the apartment upstairs, and he said Rialmo yelled “Dad, what the f—” at him. He said he heard Antonio LeGrier respond, “Hey, you did what you had to do.”
Foutris said the comment attributed to Antonio Legrier was “absolutely not” true. “It defies words,” Foutris said. “He’s there watching his son bleed to death.”
The officers were interviewed separately again on Dec. 28. This time, Rialmo said he “heard someone charging down the stairs from the second floor” and that “Quintonio LeGrier opened the door leading from the second floor apartment and stepped into the vestibule.”LaPalermo, first interviewed at 6:22 a.m. the morning of the shooting, told detectives he was just behind Rialmo to the right and that “Jones turned back towards her apartment.” LaPalermo said he saw LeGrier holding the bat and told Rialmo to “look out” before Rialmo fired “six to eight times.” LaPalermo also said he’d drawn his gun while going down the porch stairs but never fired.
Rialmo told detectives he started backing out the door when LeGrier stepped in between Jones and him. Moments later, he said, LeGrier began swinging the bat.
“Rialmo started to back up as LeGrier started onto the front porch. Quintonio LeGrier swung the baseball bat at P.O. Rialmo with an overhand downward swing and then a half backwards swing,” according to the police report.
In his second interview, LaPalermo replied that he was “looking down as he backed down the stairs and did not see Quintonio LeGrier swing the bat.”
Joel Brodsky, an attorney for Rialmo, said in March 2016 that his client had not changed his story. The police reports are summaries of detectives’ interviews with Rialmo, Brodsky said, and might leave out details that the officer provided.
“They could both be fully accurate,” Brodsky said last year. “I don’t see anything different.”
The elder LeGrier called his son an exceptional kid who had some emotional problems. About a month before the police encounter, Antonio LeGrier had taken his son to Weiss Hospital where he was prescribed some medication to deal with mental health issues.
The younger LeGrier, who had been in foster care since he was four, had come to stay with his father a day earlier. Antonio LeGrier invited his son to a family holiday gathering, but he chose not to go.
When Antonio LeGrier came back home, he noticed his son appeared to be a “little agitated.”
Then at 4:14 a.m., the older LeGrier heard a loud banging on his lock door. He heard his son scream, “You’re not going to scare me.”
Antonio LeGrier said his son tried to bust the door open, but he kept him from breaking it down with a 2-by-4.
Soon, there was silence.
Antonio LeGrier said he then called Jones, who lived a floor below. He said he warned her, “My son is a little irate. Do not open the door unless the police arrive.”
Antonio LeGrier said Jones said she saw his son outside with a baseball bat.
When police arrived, Antonio LeGrier heard Bettie R. Jones yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
As Antonio LeGrier came to the third step as he made his way down, he heard the gunshots.
“I identified myself as the father and I held my hands out,” Antonio LeGrier said.
He then saw his son and Jones lying in the doorway in foyer. Antonio LeGrier said his son appeared to still be alive but Jones was not moving.
“My son had some emotional problems. Did it warrant him getting shot and killed? I don’t believe it,” Antonio LeGrier said in 2015.
On Tuesday, while marking the two-year anniversary of her son’s killing, Quintonio LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, said she regretted taking Quintonio to his father’s home that weekend.
“I’m hoping to clear his name and I want everyone to see what I know: that he’s a good person and he did the right thing,” Cooksey said. “You don’t call the police three times and then try to attack them when they come. I hope that’s proven so everyone can know what I know.”