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COPA released Rialmo findings too soon: new public safety IG

Chicago police officer Robert Rialmo, the officer who shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in December 2015, is shown leaving court at the Daley Center earlier this year. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Last December, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability announced it found that Officer Robert Rialmo was not justified when he shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in December 2015.

Now, in his first published report since being confirmed by the City Council last month, Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Joe Lipari said COPA jumped the gun when it publicized its findings and recommendation.

“COPA’s late-December 2017 release of the Rialmo Report risked creating the appearance of an accountability system susceptible to external pressure,” Lipari found.

Lipari noted that while COPA’s decision to release its findings and recommendation were “taken in the spirit of robust transparency,” he recommended COPA “revisit its release practices to comply with the time allowed” under the city’s municipal code.

In March 2018, Johnson issued a “non-concurrence” letter to COPA’s former Interim Chief Administrator Patricia Banks, saying that “Officer Rialmo’s actions were justified and within department policy” when he opened fire in the 4700 block of West Erie in the early hours of Dec. 26, 2015.

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos
Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos

That letter was only made available to the public after copies were obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.

COPA agreed with his recommendation and would institute a procedure of “withholding release during the non-concurrence period is essential to preserving the integrity of the accountability process.”

In a letter to Lipari, COPA Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts wrote, “COPA is ever-mindful of the need to balance transparency against ensuring that Chicago’s accountability system is both procedurally fair and not unduly influenced by external pressures. COPA disagrees that our actions have ever veered from those guiding principles, however, how best to balance transparency against procedural fairness is a delicate issue.”

Under the municipal code of the city, the CPD superintendent has 90 days to issue a ruling on a recommendation from COPA. The superintendent’s ruling is then sent to the the Chicago Police Board, the administrative body that metes out discipline to officers.

In Rialmo’s case, since Johnson disagreed with COPA, a single member of the board decided the case would be heard by the rest of the board members. They have yet to issue a ruling.

In June, a Cook County jury effectively cleared Rialmo of wrongdoing when they said he was justified in the shooting.