Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson got an earful from community stakeholders Wednesday about his decision to rule that Police Officer Robert Rialmo was “justified and within department policy” when he shot Quintonio LeGrier and bystander neighbor Bettie Jones.
During an invitation-only meeting at the South Side Community Arts Center, roughly 30 black ministers, elected officials and community leaders confronted Johnson about his decision to contradict the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and COPA’s recommendation that Rialmo be fired.
“They feel frustrated. They feel angry. They feel like there has not been much difference in what we’re seeing in the past as it pertains to the shooting and killing of unarmed black men and youth and people in the community,” said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner.
“The questions were around, ‘How could it be that you would think that it would be okay to message this way around something that occurred like that.’ Everybody in the room felt like it was an unjustified shooting….This was not a meeting where he was let off the hook because he was the African-American superintendent of police. This was very much people saying to him, ‘You, of all people, have to have the right message and you have to do the right thing.'”
Runner said the frustration in the room was “ignited because of Rialmo,” but there was a much broader context.
“In addition to Rialmo, we’re getting ready to go into the case for the shooting of Laquan McDonald this summer. Everybody would agree that both of these cases are equally egregious. Even though Jason Van Dyke is being tried for the murder of Laquan McDonald, there’s no guarantee – especially as it has played out around the country – that anything necessarily is going to come of that,” she said.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi could not be reached for comment after the meeting.
Before it started, Guglielmi said Johnson’s overriding purpose was not to explain the Rialmo ruling, but to outline the “next chapter of police reform.”
Runner said Johnson took the heat about his Rialmo decision, but said very little about the case, citing a gag order imposed by a judge. He simply urged the participants to let the complex process play out.
Now that COPA has recommended that Rialmo be fired and Johnson has ruled the shooting justified, the two sides must try to find a middle ground.
If they can’t, the dispute will go before a single member of the Police Board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
If the designated Police Board member sides with Johnson, that would be the final word. If the Police Board member sides with COPA, the recommendation that Rialmo be fired must be approved by the entire Police Board.
Earlier this week, Johnson told reporters that “a lot of thought and deliberation” went into his decision to rule the shooting justified and, “I don’t have the luxury of basing my decisions on public pressure, political pressure. I have to simply go by the law, department policies and general orders that were in place back then in 2015.”
If the Police Board ultimately sides with COPA and fires Rialmo, Johnson will have managed to appease the Fraternal Order of Police without suffering the community relations consequences of having Rialmo return to the streets.
But the superintendent insisted this week that placating the union was not the driving force behind his decision.
On Wednesday, April 4, Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell spoke with Johnson about his decision to clear Rialmo.
“I don’t have an agenda, the only agenda that Eddie Johnson has is to do what’s best for the citizens of this city, help keep them safe, and then do what’s best for the rank-and-file,” Johnson said.
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.
Although the Rialmo ruling was the flashpoint for Wednesday’s meeting, Runner said participants were equally frustrated about how long it’s taking Emanuel to negotiate a consent decree with retiring Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and how little input stakeholders are having in that process.
“Mostly they’re frustrated because there’s no messaging about it. No one knows what’s going on. And there is no idea what’s going to be included in it. People are very upset about that,” Runner said.