As Chicago debates new measures to combat gun violence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s police superintendent finds himself at odds with a police oversight agency — and even with some of his supporters among the city’s African-American leaders.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has rejected the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA)’s recommendation that he fire an officer who fatally shot two people in 2015, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Disciplinary officials had called for Officer Robert Rialmo’s firing because of the deaths of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones 55. Rialmo is white and both LeGrier and Jones were black.
Johnson, who is black, found that Rialmo was justified in taking action against LeGrier, arguing that LeGrier swung a bat at the officer, rendering LeGrier an assailant, the Tribune reported. Jones was a bystander who was shot accidentally, officials have said.
Johnson “could have taken the easy way out, politically, and ruled against” Rialmo, city Ald. Nick Sposato told the Tribune. “I just want to commend Eddie johnson for doing the right thing, for having the courage to do this.”
But Johnson’s ruling is not the final word, and his decision could set up a “rare clash” with police disciplinary officials, the Tribine reported. He must now work with COPA’s leaders to see if they can reach an agreement on the case.
If Johnson and COPA officials cannot agree, the matter goes to one member of the Chicago Police Board, who can either accept the superintendent’s position or side with COPA and send the case to the full Police Board for hearings on Rialmo’s potential firing, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, several African-American aldermen in the city have blasted Johnson’s stand, saying that absolving the officer of responsibility in the LeGrier-Jones case would likely inflame the community.
“The reaction is going to be outrage,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “People are gonna be quite upset because, this is an innocent woman who got shot answering the door.”
“There will be a backlash,” agreed Ald. Emma Mitts, “because two people got killed — an innocent bystander and a mentally ill person.”
The Rialmo case garnered intense scrutiny because it was the first officer-involved shooting since the court-mandated release a month prior of video of a Caucasian officer shooting African-American teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014, the Tribune reported.
COPA was born out of that controversy, the newspaper noted. On Tuesday, a search committee formed by Emanuel announced it had appointed a veteran state law enforcement official as COPA’s new leader.
Sydney Roberts, who has been director of the Illinois Secretary of State Police since 2010, will lead COPA, the Tribune reported.
Meanwhile, an Illinois House sommittee held a hearing Tuesday about new gun control measures, where opponents and proponents expressed their views, Fox 32 Chicago reported.
“Over the weekend, I know personally of five people that were killed by gun violence while we’re squabbling about who didn’t do what,” educator Gayinga Washington told the panel. She is mourning the death of her friend Darnell Simmons, who was fatally shot while saving his son last week.
“Blood is spilling in the streets every day. I don’t care anymore if you are a Republican or a Democrat or in-between,” Washington said. “What I care about now is we resolve this problem.”