As testimony changes, attorneys in Chicago cop shooting case ask for sanctions

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The doorway where a Chicago Police officer shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier. | Legal exhibit

Attorneys representing the estates of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier are asking a judge to sanction the city after a paramedic’s sworn recollection changed concerning the scene where a Chicago Police officer shot and killed both of them.

The request came during a sometimes contentious three-hour hearing before Cook County Judge James O’Hara Tuesday, in which it was also ordered that Mayor Rahm Emanuel be deposed on March 29 in the wrongful death lawsuits.

Attorneys for both the LeGrier and Jones estates, along with several from the city’s Law Department, reviewed in open court about 40 minutes of testimony previously given by Chicago Fire Department Cmdr. Joseph DiGiovanni.

DiGiovanni was the first EMT to arrive at the scene of the shooting in the 4700 block of West Erie on Dec. 26, 2015. In two interviews with the Independent Police Review Authority — the former police disciplinary agency — he said that he found the bodies of LeGrier and Jones both inside the home where they lived.

In the IPRA interviews, DiGiovanni said Jones’ body was found completely within her first floor apartment. LeGrier’s body, he said, was lying about halfway inside Jones’ home and halfway in the apartment building’s front vestibule.

In the first interview with IPRA, given about a month after the shooting, DiGiovanni said: “His heels were just set slightly back from the front threshold.” In the second interview, given four days later, he said LeGrier’s “feet were just inside the outer doorway.”

DiGiovanni said the bat that LeGrier was wielding was also found near his body in the building’s foyer.

However, in a deposition earlier this year with Basileios “Bill” Foutris, an attorney for the LeGrier estate, he said that LeGrier’s buttocks and legs were “beyond the threshold” and were on the building’s front porch when he arrived.

DiGiovanni was shown photos from the scene of the shooting during the second IPRA interview. In his deposition with DiGiovanni, Foutris raised the discrepancy.

“I said that, then when you see the pictures, things get fuzzy for me,” DiGiovanni responded.

Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing, Foutris said “something happened” with regard to what DiGiovanni had said.

“It’s obviously changed testimony,” Foutris said. The judge did not rule on the motion for sanctions Tuesday.

For its part, the Chicago Law Department pushed back on the insinuation that DiGiovanni’s testimony was coached.

“The Department of Law is filing a written response that will address the claims made in the motion for sanctions, however, any suggestion that our attorneys improperly asked a witness to alter or change testimony is unequivocally false,” Chicago Law Dept. spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.

Attorneys for both sides argued about what Emanuel would be asked about and for how long he would undergo questioning. The location of the deposition is still undecided and the city will get a list of questions before the deposition is held.

Naomi Avendano, an attorney for the city, asked that it not be held at the Daley Center downtown, out of concerns that “this is going to turn into a circus.”

The judge shot back, “And I’ll be the ringmaster.”

The parties agreed that Emanuel would be asked about the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, conversations he had with the families of Jones and LeGrier, as well as statements he’s made about the Chicago Police Department’s “code of silence.”

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is also scheduled to be deposed. His testimony, limited to COPA’s findings, will be given March 15 at the Daley Center. Neither depositions will be open to the public, though they may be admissible at trial.

Attorneys asked O’Hara that a protective order be granted to ensure neither video is released publicly.

Twice during the hearing, as attorneys were engaged in back-and-forths, O’Hara whistled and made his hands into a “T,” to call for a timeout. The judge asked the court reporter both times to make sure the whistling and hand gestures were noted on the record.

LeGrier, 19, was wielding a bat when he was shot by Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo near the front door of his father’s two-flat in West Garfield Park. LeGrier, home on break from Northern Illinois University, suffered a mental health crisis that prompted both him and his father to call for help from police.

Jones, a downstairs neighbor, was killed by one of Rialmo’s errant gunshots.

Last year, COPA ruled that Rialmo was not justified when he opened fire.

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