The Law Department’s No. 3 official signed off on what Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called a “callous” decision he reversed — to sue the estate of a bat-wielding teenager shot to death by a Chicago Police officer in December 2015, along with an innocent bystander.
Sources said $139,812-a-year Deputy Corporation Counsel Naomi Avendano was approached by attorneys for Hale Law LLC with a legal theory with the potential to limit the liability for Chicago taxpayers from the lawsuit filed by the family of 55-year-old Bettie Jones.
But sources said those outside attorneys warned Avendano that blaming Quintonio LeGrier for “negligent acts and/or omissions which caused or contributed to the injuries and damages alleged” by the Jones family would be controversial and that she should get clearance from her boss, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel.
Instead, Avendano signed off on the idea, apparently without telling Siskel, City Hall sources said.
That prompted attorney Matthew Hurd of Hale Law LLC to file the explosive “third-party complaint for contribution” at 12:42 p.m. last Thursday on the city’s behalf.
In it, the city alleged that LeGrier “committed one or more of” 23 different “negligent acts and/or omissions” that “caused or contributed” to the decision by Chicago Police officer Robert Rialmo to fire the shots that killed LeGrier and Jones.
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Those “negligent acts and/or omissions” included “acting in a threatening manner, thereby creating the reasonable belief” that he “carried a weapon” and “presented a risk of inflicting great bodily harm or death” to a police officer.
LeGrier was further accused of failing to “warn police dispatchers” and the responding police officer that he was “armed with a baseball bat”; failing to “follow lawful commands of one or more police officers to disarm himself” of the baseball bat; “advancing toward a police officer in a menacing manner with a baseball bat in his hands” and swinging that bat.
The city’s now-aborted “third-party complaint for contribution” also accused LeGrier of failing to “surrender to the lawful authority of one or more police officers” and failing to “take prescribed medication to control his mental illness.”
Two 911 center dispatchers were suspended without pay for hanging up on LeGrier and failing to dispatch police in response to the young man’s pleas for help in late December 2015.
When Chicago Police finally did respond, they shot and killed the bat-wielding LeGrier and accidentally killed his neighbor, Jones.
Siskel and Avendano could not be reached for comment on the embarassing chain of events.
Nor was it known whether Avendano had offered her resignation for signing off on a now-reversed decision that threatens to undermine Emanuel’s efforts to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
“The City quickly withdrew the motion last week and there is nothing more to add. While the issue about the motion has been resolved, there is still an active case and it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey wrote in an email.
Andy Hale and Matt Hurd of Hale Law, the firm hired to represent the city in the volatile case, did not return calls.
It’s tough to imagine Siskel signing off on the high-risk strategy if he had known about it in advance.
He has clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, prosecuted newspaper publisher Conrad Black, served in the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department and as deputy White House counsel under now former President Barack Obama.
In three years at the White House, Siskel helped steer the Obama administration through congressional investigations and other political land mines.
They included the solar panel company known as Solyndra that went belly up after receiving government loans; terrorist attacks on the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, and the rocky start of the Affordable Care Act that President Donald Trump has promised to repeal and replace.
Last week, Emanuel tried to undo the political damage caused by the now-aborted legal gambit.
The mayor called LeGrier’s father to apologize. The mayor said he had no advance warning of the city’s filing and, when he found out about it, ordered it reversed.
As for the Law Department, Emanuel said: “They acknowledged that they were wrong . . . and changed their position. . . . It was callous for a family specifically that’s been through so much. . . . This was a mistake. It should have never been done in the first place.”
Janet Cooksey, LeGrier’s mother, said then that the city’s abruptly reversed decision to sue “poured salt into” a wound that won’t heal.
“The city keeps adding to my pain. . . . They took my only child, but that wasn’t enough. You had to try and make him look bad. He tried to do the right thing. He called the police three times before they came because he knew he needed help. But when the moment came, they killed him,” she said.