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‘It’s a joke’: Attorneys fume at Supt. Johnson’s letter clearing Robert Rialmo

Former Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson spoke at a City Club lunch. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Attorneys for the families of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier fumed at Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s determination that the pair’s shooting deaths at the hands of Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo were “justified and within department policy.”

Basileios “Bill” Foutris, an attorney for LeGrier’s family, blasted Johnson’s letter as “a flawed analysis” that ignored evidence that got “some basic facts wrong on top of that.”

“It’s just police protecting police,” Foutris said at the Daley Center Thursday, minutes before Mayor Rahm Emanuel was set to be deposed in the wrongful death lawsuits filed by the LeGrier and Jones families.

“It was a joke,” Foutris added. “And at the end of the day, it’s almost as if the superintendent is saying that police officers can get two freebies. Just any police officer can kill two people and still be on the streets.”

Cook County Judge James O’Hara imposed a gag order that prevented attorneys from publicly discussing many of the developments in the wrongful death lawsuits, including Johnson’s March 22 letter to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

However, on Tuesday, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune both reported on Johnson’s letter and what he concluded shortly after O’Hara ordered it to remain out of the public eye.

O’Hara lifted the gag order on Thursday.

In the letter, Johnson 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.”

Foutris believes the letter wasn’t written by Johnson himself.

“It’s full of legalese,” Foutris said. “Clearly a lawyer or a group of lawyers drafted this for him and he signed it.”

The criticism of Johnson’s findings came the same day that Emanuel sat through a videotaped deposition. The questioning was closed to the public, though it would be admissible at trial.

City attorneys had fought to keep Emanuel’s deposition out of the Daley Center, but ultimately agreed that it be held in O’Hara’s courtroom.

Attorneys agreed earlier this month that Emanuel — who arrived Thursday afternoon for more than three hours of questioning — would be asked only about COPA, his conversations with the Jones and LeGrier families, as well as his prior statements on the CPD’s “code of silence.”

Attorneys for the LeGrier and Jones families declined to discuss the details of Emanuel’s deposition, citing a protective order on the testimony. They did say, though, that they filed a motion asking O’Hara to make Emanuel’s and Johnson’s depositions public.

Asked if he wanted those depositions public, Joel Brodsky, Rialmo’s attorney, said: “Frankly, there wasn’t very much relevant that was said in either.”

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. The younger LeGrier, a student at Northern Illinois University, was suffering a mental episode at the time.

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.