EDITORIAL: Shoot a mentally disturbed man, then sue his family? Maybe not

SHARE EDITORIAL: Shoot a mentally disturbed man, then sue his family? Maybe not

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos

The political damage, unfortunately, has been done.

In one of the most boneheaded moves we can recall from a bunch of government lawyers, City Hall’s law department on Thursday sued the family of a teenager who was killed — possibly as a result of mistakes by the city — by a police officer.


The city’s lawyers filed suit because, they contend, the dead young man, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, ultimately was to blame for a neighbor, Bettie Jones, who was standing behind him, also being shot and killed by the officer.

Follow the logic here? The city screws up in several ways. First, two 911 dispatchers — who were later suspended without pay — hang up on LeGrier when, on a day in December 2015, he calls to say he’s in a family argument and needs help. Then an officer responding to the altercation at the LeGrier home, on Dec. 26, 2015, shoots and kills the young man, who was armed with a baseball bat. Jones, a bystander, is killed too.

In a good deal of entirely necessary second-guessing since then, mental health and law enforcement experts have questioned whether LeGrier would have been shot had the Chicago Police Department done a better job of training officers in how to handle a mentally disturbed man.

What we have here, all around, is a tragedy.

What we don’t have here is grounds for beating up on LeGrier’s family by filing a lawsuit against his estate.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel woke up on Friday morning to a public relations disaster. The mayor, who has taken steps to build greater trust between the police and the people of Chicago, especially in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, could see the optics were awful.

Cops for the city kill a mentally challenged man and then lawyers for the city sue the family?

Emanuel ordered that the suit, which was filed without his knowledge, be dropped. It was, he said, “callous.” Then he called LeGrier’s father, Antonio, to apologize.

“I’ve talked to him before. I met with him before,” the mayor later told reporters. “We had a good conversation and he was incredibly gracious and understanding.”

But it’s fair to wonder how well the message of police reform — community trust is essential — has sunk in at City Hall when the Law Department, which answers to the mayor, files such a tin-eared suit.

“I am relieved there was a reversal” of the suit, Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said. “But I fear for the precedent it set and, even with the reversal, profound damage has been done.”

Two steps forward, one step back.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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