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Police use-of-force expert: Rialmo was right to shoot LeGrier

Chicago police officer Robert Rialmo, the officer who shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in December 2015, leaves court at the Daley Center on June 19, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

A police practices and use-of-force expert testified Friday that Officer Robert Rialmo had no choice but to shoot Quintonio LeGrier in December 2015.

Emanuel Kapelsohn told jurors that a stun gun, pepper spray or a baton would not be appropriate responses to someone charging at an officer with an aluminum baseball bat.

Kapelsohn said that Rialmo’s actions were “in keeping” with departmental policies on use of force.

His testimony came during the fifth day of trial in the wrongful death suit filed by LeGrier’s estate against Rialmo and the city. Rialmo — who fatally shot LeGrier and Bettie Jones on Dec. 26, 2015 — is also suing the city and the LeGrier estate.

The cases made by attorneys have so far focused largely on how close Rialmo was to LeGrier when he opened fire, as well as where LeGrier was on the property when he was shot.

Rialmo has said that LeGrier charged at him with a baseball bat on the front porch of LeGrier’s father’s West Side home. The officer said the 19-year-old swung the bat at him once, coming within inches of his body, before he cocked back to swing again. That’s when Rialmo opened fire.

Attorneys for the LeGrier estate have argued that Rialmo was much farther away — on the sidewalk — when he shot LeGrier as he was in the vestibule of the two-flat.

Barrett Boudreaux, an attorney for the city, asked Kapelsohn if an officer has to sustain an attack before using deadly force. Kapelsohn — who has decades of experience as a trainer and reviewer of police practices, and who has taught at local and federal police academies across the country — flatly rejected the idea.

“We don’t have a situation where Quintonio is in a Little League uniform,” Kapelsohn said. “The officer isn’t a mind-reader. The officer has to act on reasonable appearances.”

“They can only use deadly force in the face of deadly force,” he added.

Basileios “Bill” Foutris, one of the LeGrier estate’s attorneys, noted that Rialmo’s version of what happened in the early hours of Dec. 26, 2015 had changed several times. Kapelsohn, who reviewed Rialmo’s first two depositions and statements to investigators, agreed.

Rialmo initially said that LeGrier first swung the bat in the threshold of the doorway to the vestibule of the building. He later said that LeGrier was near the edge of the steps on the front porch when he swung the bat.

Rialmo has said that he believed Jones went back inside her apartment after she opened the front door for him the night of the shooting. He fatally shot her before she was back inside. Kapelsohn said Friday that “tunnel vision” — an intense focus on a threat — could have prevented Rialmo from seeing her.

Kapelsohn said he test-fired Rialmo’s gun 10 times at the Chicago Police Department’s training academy shooting range to figure out where shell casings were ejected to.

By figuring out where they land, Kapelsohn said, he could better determine where Rialmo was standing when he fired. Kapelsohn said that, of the 10 shots, the average landing spot for shell casings was five feet behind and five feet to the right of the gun.

A photo of the exterior of the house, taken just after the shooting, showed that three casings were found on the sidewalk, two were found on the grass between the sidewalk and the street and one was found in the grass near the porch.

A seventh casing was found across the street. Kapelsohn said it was likely stepped on and it became lodged in someone’s boot and was dragged there.

Kapelsohn said that the positions of the six casings near the two flat are “inconsistent with the officer firing from the public sidewalk.”

Friday was the first time in the trial that LeGrier’s bat was not used by attorneys as an illustrative prop.

Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, arrived in court just before 2:40 p.m. after Kapelsohn had testified for about three hours. He did not question Kapelsohn during his opportunity for cross examination.

The divisive LeGrier trial is not the first high-profile case in which Kapelsohn has testified.

In 2016, Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer while he was in a car in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul. Video of Castile writhing in the car’s front passenger seat, bleeding out from the chest, soon went viral. In the criminal trial against the officer who shot Castile, Kapelsohn testified that the officer was justified.

Foutris also disclosed that Kapelsohn has been retained by the city as an expert in at least nine other police use-of-force lawsuits.