Three months after the civilian police oversight agency recommended Officer Robert Rialmo be fired for fatally shooting two people, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson rejected that conclusion, saying “Officer Rialmo’s actions were justified and within department policy.”
Johnson notified the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that he rejected its findings and recommendation to fire Rialmo in a March 22 letter to COPA’s Interim Chief Administrator Patricia Banks.
The city did not want the letter – which was obtained by the Sun-Times – to be public. On Tuesday, Cook County Judge James O’Hara granted a request from city attorneys to keep the letter under seal for now.
After stopping in at an unrelated meeting at City Hall, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham applauded Johnson.
“Rialmo was not guilty of a crime. Officer Rialmo fired his gun in defense of himself when Mr. [Quintonio] LeGrier came at him with a baseball bat,” Graham said.
Last December, COPA said Rialmo — who has been on desk duty since the shooting — was “not justified” when he fatally shot Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier in December 2015.
Representatives from COPA now have 15 days to talk with Johnson and submit a rebuttal.
The city’s move to keep Johnson’s letter under wraps runs counter to its publicly stated goal “to want to be transparent and put everything in the public domain,” said attorney Larry Rogers, who is representing Jones’ family in a wrongful death suit.
The decision comes two days before Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to be deposed in connection with lawsuits filed against the city by the Jones and LeGrier families.
Johnson has already been deposed.
Janet Cooksey, LeGrier’s mother, was dismayed by Johnson’s letter.
“I’m feeling real bad,” she said. “This was my child. This is something personal.”
Representatives from COPA and the CPD declined comment.
Basileios “Bill” Foutris, an attorney for the LeGrier estate, declined to comment on Johnson’s letter, citing a protective order put into place by the judge that prevents parties from discussing the case.
Meanwhile, amid the revelations of Johnson’s letter, the mayor’s office on Tuesday announced that the selection committee tasked with finding a new COPA chief has unanimously recommended Sydney Roberts, director of the Illinois Secretary of State’s police department.
Sharon Fairley vacated the job last fall before running for Illinois attorney general.
Roberts’ appointment is expected be introduced to the City Council on Wednesday.
By quickly accepting the only recommendation of his handpicked search committee, Emanuel avoids a larger debate over a pending proposal to empower a civilian oversight board to choose the new COPA chief, fire the police superintendent and establish police policy.
Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said she had no problem with Emanuel’s choice of Roberts.
“There is no civilian oversight board. It doesn’t exist right now. And COPA needs leadership now,” Lightfoot said.
Rialmo and his partner, Anthony LaPalermo, arrived at the home of LeGrier’s father around 4:38 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2015, after the father and son had called 911 from the two-flat at 4710 W. Erie.
Rialmo initially said he rang the doorbell, and Jones motioned that there was trouble upstairs. Jones “turned to walk back into her apartment” when “Quintonio LeGrier pulled the front door all the way open” with a bat above his head. Rialmo then opened fire as he backpedaled off the small front porch.
Johnson noted that LeGrier, armed with the bat, got within a few feet for Rialmo and LaPalermo.
“The only issue that exists is whether Quintonio’s sudden attack was so immediate and proximate that Officer Rialmo’s only option to prevent great bodily harm or death was to discharge his firearm, striking Quintonio,” Johnson wrote. “The department submits that it was, and that Officer Rialmo was justified in shooting his weapon, despite the very unfortunate result.”
Johnson also called into question COPA’s entire investigatory process, arguing that the agency looked at the shooting with the luxury of hindsight, instead of analyzing Rialmo’s actions from his perspective in the moment.
“COPA improperly analyzed this incident using the 20/20 clarity of hindsight rather than that contained in the Department’s directives on the use of force,” Johnson wrote.
“When analyzing Officer Rialmo’s decisions with the benefit of hindsight, COPA suggests that, because the officer created distance, he could and therefore should have created additional distance,” he continued. “However, department policy does not require officers to do so.”
COPA’s investigation had previously come under fire from the FOP. The rank-and-file police union, through a Freedom of Information Act Request, found that COPA had paid $17,000 to an outside consultant to review the case.
COPA did not previously disclose that and insisted that their methods were sound.