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At start of LeGrier trial, cop who fired fatal shot defended as ‘reasonable’

Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo had a split second to react in a life-or-death situation when he opened fire on an “out-of-control” Quintonio LeGrier, attorneys for the city told jurors at the Daley Center on Monday.

“He had no time or opportunity to do anything else,” city attorney Brian Gainer said during his opening statement. LeGrier’s estate is suing the city and Rialmo in a wrongful death case that has, once again, highlighted starkly divided opinions in the city about police use of deadly force.

Gainer held aloft the aluminum baseball bat that the city — and Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky — say LeGrier was swinging at the police officer on Dec. 26, 2015. Rialmo is counter-suing the city, claiming he wasn’t adequately trained and wasn’t provided with suitable less-than-lethal equipment the night he shot LeGrier.

Daniel Watkins, an attorney for the LeGrier family, stressed to jurors what LeGrier did not have when he was shot.

“Quintonio LeGrier did not have a gun, he did not have a knife . . . He did not pose a deadly threat to anyone,” Watkins said.

Neighbor Bettie Jones also was shot during the incident — a fact that jurors were told. They were not told, however, that the city recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit with her estate for $16 million.

Rialmo and his partner, Anthony LaPalermo, were responding to a domestic disturbance at LeGrier’s father’s house, a two-flat in the 4700 block of West Erie. On a 911 call, the panicked-sounding father, Antonio LeGrier, can be heard asking for police help, telling dispatchers: “He’s got a baseball bat in his hand.”

With police on their way, Antonio LeGrier asked his neighbor, Jones, to let the officers in. At the time, the father was barricaded in his room. When police arrived, Quintonio LeGrier was coming down the front stairs of the two-flat, all sides appear to agree.

What happened next is what’s at issue at trial. Watkins told jurors that the physical evidence from the scene — where the fired shell casings were found, the location of the blood stains — will be critical. Quintonio LeGrier wasn’t anywhere close to Rialmo when the officer started firing, Watkins said.

“He never posed an imminent, deadly threat to Rialmo,” Watkins said.

And the “one independent witness” — a man who was sitting in a car a few houses away — “did not see Quintonio LeGrier anywhere near the firing officer,” Watkins said.

Brodsky told jurors that the shootings happened at a dimly lighted house in the middle of the night. Brodsky said the physical evidence can’t be trusted because shortly after the shootings, the scene was swarming with tromping paramedics and cops.

Brodsky urged jurors not to be distracted.

“He wasn’t coming down stairs at 3 a.m. to ask the officers to play in a softball game,” Brodsky said.

Gainer said Rialmo’s actions were “reasonable” considering “all the circumstances” of that night.

The exact distance between Rialmo and LeGrier at the moment the officer opened fire isn’t important, Gainer said.

“These guys are feet away from being seriously injured or killed,” Gainer said.

At one point Monday, the proceedings were briefly halted when LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, was led sobbing from the courtroom.

Monday also saw testimony from Michael Knox, an expert witness in crime scene recreation who was retained by the attorneys for the LeGrier estate.

Jack Kennedy asked Knox if, after his review of records made available to him, if he believed that Rialmo was experiencing “perception distortion” when he opened fire on LeGrier.

“I saw no particular indications of it, no,” Knox said.

The jury was dismissed about 4:40 p.m.

After about 15 minutes of haggling, attorneys for all parties agreed that Rialmo would be called to testify at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Other witnesses yet to be called by the LeGrier estate include Quintonio’s father, Antonio LeGrier, his mother and, possibly, Rialmo’s partner, Michael LaPalermo.

Contributing: Sam Charles