CHICAGO — An Illinois jury on Wednesday found a Chicago cop acted “reasonably” in a 2015 police shooting that also left an innocent bystander dead and exacerbated already fraught relations for law enforcement in black neighborhoods in the nation’s third-largest city.
Jurors awarded $1.05 million in damages to the estate of QuintonioLeGrier, 19, following the eight-day civil trial. But that penalty was negated by Judge Rena Marie Van Tine because the jury also found that the officer, Robert Rialmo, was justified in firing at the teen to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” to himself or his partner.
The LeGrier family’s attorney, BasileiosFoutris, asked the jury to award the family up to $25 million in damages.
“I don’t believe that Officer Rialmo is a bad person necessarily,” David Fitzsimon, the jury foreman, told reporters following the verdict. “I think he just made a bad decision at the moment.”
The December 2015 shooting deaths of LeGrier, a Northern Illinois University student, and his neighbor Bettie Jones, 55, came during a tense moment in a city that was already on edge.
The incident came just weeks after the release of a chilling police dashcam video that showed a white officer fatally shoot a black teen, Laquan McDonald, 16 times, and set off weeks of street protests. The officer in the McDonald incident, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder on the day the video was released — 400 days after the incident — and is awaiting trial.
In the 2015 incident, police acknowledged that Jones — who rented a basement apartment from LeGrier’s father — was accidentally killed by Rialmo, who had been dispatched to a domestic disturbance involving LeGrier. Both LeGrier, who was going through a mental health episode, and his father called 911 before officers arrived at the family’s West Side home.
Authorities said LeGrier was wielding an aluminum baseball bat and was combative when officers arrived, behavior that prompted Rialmo to fire his weapon.
Jones, who opened the door for police at the multi-unit dwelling for a responding officer, was mistakenly shot as she was returning to her apartment.
USA TODAY learned earlier this month that the city of Chicago had reached a $16 million settlement with the Jones family. But city attorneys and Rialmo have maintained that the shooting of LeGrier was justified and took the case to trial.
LeGrier’s legal team argued that there was significant distance between LeGrier and Rialmo when the officer opened fire, and there was no need for the officer to use deadly force.
Rialmo, who filed a countersuit against the LeGrier estate and hired his own attorney for the case instead of using the city’s counsel, testified that he was in imminent danger as the teen held the bat over his head and swung it after barreling down the apartment steps. The juror found that LeGrier intentionally caused emotional stress to Rialmo, but awarded no damages to the officer.
The officer, who has been placed on desk duty since the incident, also testified that the teen’s father, Antonio LeGrier, told him immediately after the shooting that he “did what you had to do.”
Two other officers also took the stand and testified that they heard the elder LeGrier make the comment. Antonio LeGrier, however, denied making the statement.
The department — one of the nation’s largest police forces with over 12,000 officers — has faced scrutiny over policing tactics in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods like the one on the city’s West Side where LeGrier and Jones lived. Both LeGrier and Jones are black. Rialmo is white.
A 2017 Justice Department review found Chicago officers used force nearly 10 times more in incidents involving black suspects than against white suspects. African-Americans were the subject of 80% of all police firearm uses and 81% of all Taser contact-stun uses between January 2011 and April 2016. Of incidents where use of force was used against a minor, 83% involved black children and 14% involved Latino children during the same time-period, the report notes.
Chicago has also spent about $709 million on settlements for police misconduct cases, according to a new report from the Action Center on Race & the Economy.
LeGrier was shot in the chest, back, right buttock, left arm, and grazed on his left side and right shoulder. Jones was struck in the chest once.
Antonio LeGrier called police and then called his downstairs tenant Jones and asked her if she would let officers into the building when they arrived. Jones agreed, but against the wishes of a friend who was with her in her apartment.
When police arrived, Jones pointed police upstairs to guide the officers to the right location. At that point, LeGrier was coming down the stairs and heading toward Jones, according to a medical examiner’s report about the incident.
“Jones motioned to step back into her apartment; at which time, police fired shots in an attempt to stop Quintonio,” the report said.
The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which is tasked with investigating police shootings and incidents of alleged police misconduct, earlier this year ruled the shooting unjustified. Meanwhile, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson determined the shooting was warranted.
COPA found that shell casings at the crime scene show that Rialmo was farther away from LeGrier than the officer claimed and that the teen did not swing the bat at Rialmo.
Because of the split findings, another body, the Chicago Police Board, will decide whether to fire Rialmo.