By Frederick H. Lowe
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago has ruled the deadly police shootings of a college student and his downstairs neighbor two years ago this month were unjustified.
COPA’s decision was issued December 22, nearly a year after the Cook County State’s Attorney ruled in February that the officer would not face any charges in the two deadly shootings. Now it’s unclear what will happen, if anything. COPA investigates a number of issues including police use of excessive force.
Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old engineering student who attended Northern Illinois University, and Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old mother and grandmother suffering from ovarian cancer, who lived downstairs from LeGrier and his father, Antonio Le Grier, the building’s landlord.
The police had been called to stop a heated argument between LeGrier and his father. Rialmo claimed he shot to death Quintonio LeGrier after the young man charged him, swinging an aluminum baseball bat in the vestibule of the apartment building where he lived at 4710 W. Erie on Chicago’s West Side.
Jones, who opened the door to let the police officer inside the building, was the first one shot to death in an apparent accident, police claim. She was unarmed.
After he was shot, LeGrier fell on top of Jones’s lifeless body. LeGrier was shot six times; Jones was shot once.
A police source told the Chicago Tribune that the deadly shooting occurred in the building’s hallway, but I went to the scene of the shooting and spent the entire day in freezing cold weather, interviewing neighborhood residents.
Several witnesses told me and others Rialmo fired his gun from the sidewalk or the parkway and that is what COPA’s investigation concluded.
The investigation and evidence from the scene suggest Rialmo’s account of the shooting was not honest, COPA reported.
Rialmo claimed LeGrier ran into the apartment’s vestibule swinging the bat, when he (Rialmo) opened fire while standing on the front porch.
“Truthfully, it appears Rialmo fired from somewhere between the bottom of the porch and sidewalk,” ruled COPA, which concluded that a “reasonable officer would not have believed he was in danger or serious injury or death.”
Rialmo claimed he shot LeGrier because he feared for his life. His partner did not corroborate Rialmo’s account of what occurred.
That conclusion mirrors what Antonio LeGrier charged in a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. LeGrier said his son was shot inside the building, not outside, and he was never a threat to the police officer.
Owen Lawson, III, who was working for NorthStar News & Analysis the day after the shooting, photographed bullet holes fired into the building. Green post-its mark where the police bullets were fired.
The deadly shooting gets even more complicated because Jones was an active member of Action Now, Chicago’s largest neighborhood organization that worked to improve living conditions in East Garfield Park where the incident occurred. One of the organization’s leaders was a retired Chicago police officer.
COPA released its findings 11 months after the Cook County State’s Attorney ruled that Rialmo would not face any charges in the deadly shooting of Quintonio LeGrier because he was legally justified in using deadly force because the teenager was armed with a baseball bat.
Rialmo also did not face charges in the killing of Jones because under Illinois law when a person acts in self-defense and accidently kills an innocent bystander, he or she is not liable, the Cook County State’s Attorney ruled.
Rialmo’s lawyer is Joel Brodsky, who represented former Bolingbrook, Illinois police officer Drew Peterson who is in prison after being convicted of murdering Kathleen Savio, his third wife. Peterson’s fourth wife has disappeared and is believed to be dead.
Brodsky told news outlets that he will challenge COPA’s decision, which he called political.
After the shootings, Rialmo was assigned to desk duty but as a result of a deliberate or mistaken administrative mix-up he was allowed to return to street patrol. He returned to desk duty after the mistake was discovered.