CHICAGO (CBS) — Jurors will hear opening statements Monday in a wrongful death case against the Chicago Police Department and Officer Robert Rialmo, in the shooting death of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier in 2015.
Rialmo shot and killed LeGrier while responding to a domestic disturbance call on the day after Christmas in 2015. He also accidentally shot and killed 55-year-old Bettie Jones, a neighbor who was standing behind LeGrier.
The city has reached a tentative $16 million settlement with Jones’ estate in her death, but LeGrier’s estate is moving forward with a trial at the Daley Center courthouse.
Rialmo’s attorney said the officer shot LeGrier because the teenager charged at him with a baseball bat.
Rialmo and his partner were responding to 911 calls about a domestic disturbance at the apartment in Austin where LeGrier was staying with his father. Jones, who lived downstairs from the LeGriers, answered the door and directed police upstairs.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which declined to charge Rialmo with a crime in the shooting, has said LeGrier came down the stairs armed with a baseball bat, and the officers started backing down the stairs.
Rialmo then fired eight times, hitting LeGrier six times, and hitting Jones once.
Defense attorney Joel Brodsky said Rialmo feels horrible about killing Jones, but he fired in fear of his life.
“I think the main point with Rialmo is, if I put any other person in his situation, they would have had no choice except to do what he did; which was try to defend their life,” Brodsky said.
Rialmo has admitted in court filings that he knew Jones was standing behind LeGrier when he opened fire, but Brodsky has argued the shooting was still justified.
Brodsky also has argued Rialmo was not propertly trained by the Police Department.
“What are you supposed to do when somebody’s got a bat over their head, they’re charging at you at 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning?” he said. “They’re maybe four to six feet away from you, what are you supposed to do?”
LeGrier’s family, however, has said Rialmo was much further away from LeGrier when the officer started shooting. A witness who spoke to CBS 2 in the days after the shooting said Rialmo was standing on the sidewalk outside the home, several yards from the front door, while LeGrier was still inside, when he opened fire.
LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, said that shows her son was not a threat to Rialmo.
“How can you be a threat if you’re shooting from the sidewalk, and he’s in the hallway? He’s too far away from him to ever pose any type of threat,” Cooksey said.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability has ruled the shooting was not justified. The agency also has questioned Rialmo’s account of the shooting, stating evidence shows he was further away from LeGrier than he claimed when he started shooting.
“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.
COPA has recommended RIalmo be fired, but Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has countered that ruling, finding the shooting was justified. The Chicago Police Board is set to decide whether Rialmo should be fired.