Family members have been pressuring Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to fire the police officer who killed Quintonio LeGrier and bystander Bettie Jones, but they might have to wait a while longer for the superintendent’s decision.
Johnson is accusing the Civilian Office of Police Accountability of withholding information he needs to decide whether to concur with COPA’s recommendation to fire Officer Robert Rialmo for a shooting the oversight agency has ruled “unjustified.”
The rare behind-the-scenes dispute over investigative files is aired in Johnson’s Jan. 11 letter to COPA’s interim chief administrator, Patricia Banks.
Johnson has a 60-day window in which to decide whether he will recommend that the Police Board fire Rialmo — but in the letter, he makes it clear that he won’t start the clock until COPA comes clean with the “entire file and relevant evidence” in the case.
“Despite the fact that COPA informed the media of its final opinion, CPD has not received the entire file. I am requesting that COPA confirm that CPD has everything that COPA consulted or relied upon in rendering its opinion in this matter and ask that COPA provide every document that is relevant to this investigation, including but not limited to exhibits, witness interviews, videos and expert reports,” Johnson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It is only upon receipts of those materials that COPA will have complied with the ordinance and it is only then that CPD can complete a full review of this investigation.”
The Fraternal Order of Police has demanded to know why a Boston police lieutenant was paid more than $17,000 to review the December 2015 shootings of LeGrier and Jones, but COPA never referenced those findings in ruling the shooting unjustified.
Johnson appears to be raising similar questions.
The superintendent’s letter notes that when the file was initially forwarded to CPD in the CLEAR law enforcement database system, 42 videos were “not included with the original documents.”
On Jan. 2, a police official went to COPA’s headquarters to “obtain the entire file, including those videos,” only to be informed that the missing videos were “with a private firm and would not be tendered to CPD,” the superintendent wrote.
The Police Department was subsequently informed that the videos were “not relevant, but that CPD could obtain them directly from the private firm,” Johnson wrote.
“I directed my general counsel to inquire further and CPD learned [Jan.10] that, not only did we not have the 42 videos, but there was also additional subpoenaed material that COPA recently received,” the superintendent’s letter states.
“These materials apparently were not considered by COPA in rendering its final opinion that this shooting was unjustified, despite the fact that these materials were requested by COPA pursuant to subpoena. Moreover, these subpoenaed materials were not included in COPA’s case file.”
Johnson’s comment about a “private firm” is an apparent reference to Boston Police Lt. Robert Harrington, who reviewed the shooting for COPA and was paid through the law firm of McGuire Woods LLP.
Harrington met with COPA personnel several times in April and May of 2016, mostly to “review case materials,” according to documents released to the FOP in response to a Freedom of Information request from the union.
“I know that you agree that COPA stands for integrity and strives for excellence, quality and fairness in everything that COPA does. I expect that COPA will honor that promise as it relates to this investigation,” Johnson wrote, in what could be seen as thinly-veiled criticism of COPA’s handling of the case.
COPA spokesperson Mia Sissac said the agency “has responded” to Johnson’s letter and CPD is now “moving forward with reviewing the case.”
Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi could not be reached for comment on the rare, intramural dispute.
FOP President Kevin Graham has slammed COPA — and demanded a “clarification” on use-of-force policies — for ruling Rialmo’s shooting of LeGrier and Jones unjustified.
He has also asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, citing “compelling evidence” the oversight agency is leaking confidential information to the detriment of its members.
Earlier this week, COPA released video footage of an off-duty bar fight involving Rialmo.
The two videos show Rialmo, wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and backwards baseball cap, throwing a flurry of punches at two men, knocking them both to the ground.
The release abided by transparency policies embraced by City Hall in response to the furor of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.