A Chicago Police Board member has ruled that Officer Robert Rialmo will face potential firing by the full board for the fatal 2015 shooting of a teenager carrying a baseball bat and an innocent bystander.
The decision by Eva-Dina Delgado comes after police Superintendent Eddie Johnson disagreed with the finding by the city’s police disciplinary agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, that the shooting was unjustified and that Rialmo should be fired.
She could have sided with Johnson and ended the disciplinary case against Rialmo.
Delgado, who works in government and community relations for Peoples Gas and was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Police Board in 2016, announced her decision shortly after the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting began Thursday night at police headquarters.
In keeping with city ordinance, Delgado was the Police Board member randomly chosen to assess if Johnson had met “his burden of overcoming” COPA’s recommendation to fire Rialmo. Delgado determined that Johnson did not clear that bar.
“This finding does not mean that the conclusions reached by (COPA) are correct and that the superintendent’s conclusions are incorrect,” Delgado said in announcing her decision.
Her ruling means that the Police Board — a nine-member panel that includes eight Emanuel appointees — will take on a divisive case that has stirred strong emotions among both police reform advocates and the department’s rank-and-file. Activists have called for Rialmo’s firing, while his defenders, including police union leaders, have said he was justified in shooting an armed assailant.
After the Police Board meeting Thursday night, Johnson spoke of the emotions that the fatal shootings of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and bystander Bettie Jones, 55, have stirred.
“You know that doesn’t escape me,” the superintendent told reporters. “I’m a black man (who) grew up in this city. I raised my family here. … But at the end of the day, I have to leave emotions from myself, the community and elected officials out of it.”
Johnson said he respected the city’s disciplinary process and acknowledged that he and COPA sometimes disagree over individual cases.
“But the important thing is there’s a process in place to resolve disagreements,” he told reporters. “I honor the process.”
Martin Preib, second vice president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, addressed the board following Delgado’s announcement, blasting her ruling as “despicable and false.”
“What you have done tonight has paralyzed the police,” Preib said.
Larry Rogers Jr., a lawyer representing Jones’ family in a pending lawsuit, praised Delgado’s decision while slamming Johnson for his recommendation.
“COPA was created because officers protect officers,” Rogers told the Police Board. “What Superintendent Johnson did is no different than what we’ve seen” before.
After the meeting, LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told reporters that Jones wasn’t the only innocent person shot by Rialmo.
“My son called the police three times!” she said. “You don’t call somebody three times to try to attack them!”
Cooksey said she felt relieved by Delgado’s decision to send the case to the full board.
“Rialmo has to be fired,” she said. “I don’t have a child. I’ll never be a grandmother. I have to live with this every day.”
Neither Rialmo nor his lawyer attended the meeting.
The shooting of LeGrier and Jones on the day after Christmas 2015 has attracted intense attention. Not only was a bystander killed, but it also marked Chicago’s first fatal police shooting since the court-ordered release a month earlier of video of a white officer shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times. The video, released in November 2015, outraged black and Latino Chicagoans who aired long-standing objections about their treatment by police. Efforts to overhaul the department and curb uses of force continue more than two years later.
Rialmo, who also faces a separate disciplinary investigation and misdemeanor criminal charges over a December 2017 bar fight captured on security cameras, has been stripped of his police powers and placed on paid desk duty.
About 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2015, Rialmo and his partner responded to 911 calls about a domestic disturbance at an apartment in the 4700 block of West Erie Street, where LeGrier was staying with his father. LeGrier, apparently suffering from mental health problems, had behaved strangely as a student at Northern Illinois University and had run-ins with police and other students, records show.
Jones, who lived downstairs, pointed police to the second floor. Then LeGrier came down the stairs with a baseball bat, according to an analysis released last year by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which declined to bring criminal charges against Rialmo. As Rialmo backed down the stairs, he fired eight times, hitting LeGrier six times, prosecutors found. Jones, who stood behind the teen during the incident, was shot once in the chest.
COPA investigators raised doubts about Rialmo’s accounts of the shooting, determining that the evidence suggested LeGrier likely did not swing the bat at Rialmo, as the officer contended. COPA’s ruling also found that Rialmo was probably farther from LeGrier when he fired the shots than the officer contended.
But Johnson sided with Rialmo’s contention that LeGrier swung the bat at him. He also voiced doubts about witness accounts placing the officer a significant distance from the teen and rejected other potential evidence as irrelevant. Johnson concluded that Rialmo faced immediate danger and that his actions were reasonable.
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