The fate of Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo now rests with just one randomly selected member of the nine-person Police Board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
That unidentified member will decide whether Rialmo was “justified and within department policy” when he shot Quintonio LeGrier and neighbor/bystander Bettie Jones or whether Rialmo should be fired for a December 2015 shooting that was not justified.
The heater case landed in the Police Board member’s lap after Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson met “multiple times” with Patricia Banks, acting administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, in a failed attempt to find middle ground.
That’s not surprising considering their widely divergent views of the first police shooting to follow the November 2015 release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
COPA has ruled the shooting unjustified and raised questions about Rialmo’s version of events.
Although LeGrier had a baseball bat in his hands, COPA concluded that a “reasonable officer” would not have felt threatened because Rialmo was farther away from LeGrier than the officer claimed and did not swing the bat at Rialmo.
Johnson looked at the same evidence and ruled the shooting justified.
He has called into question COPA’s entire investigatory process, arguing that the agency looked at the shooting with the “20/20 clarity of hindsight,” instead of analyzing Rialmo’s actions from his perspective in the heat of the moment and how those actions fit into the Chicago Police Department’s “directives on the use of force” at the time.
The Police Board member in the hot seat now has 10 business days — until April 25 — to decide whether Rialmo should stay or go.
If the member requests additional information, the deadline can be extended, so long as the decision is made expeditiously.
If the designated Police Board member sides with Johnson, that’s 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 with the one member abstaining.
If the decision is made on or before April 19, it will be announced at the Police Board meeting that evening. If not, the public announcement must wait until the May 17 Police Board meeting.
The Police Board uses an “on-line random tool” to assign one board member to resolve disputes that emerge from one meeting to the next. The selection is done on an annual basis and the duty rotates from month-to-month.
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.
Controversy is guaranteed, no matter what the Police Board ultimately decides.
Attorneys for the victims’ families and African-American aldermen who are among Johnson’s staunchest supporters were stunned and outraged by the superintendent’s decision.
Johnson also got an earful last week from a roomful of black ministers, elected officials and community leaders, all of whom “felt like it was an unjustified shooting,” said Chicago Urban League President Shari Runner.
“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 after the meeting.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham has applauded the superintendent for making the right decision.
“Rialmo was not guilty of a crime. Officer Rialmo fired his gun in defense of himself when Mr. LeGrier came at him with a baseball bat,” Graham has said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to take sides between Johnson and COPA.
The mayor has simply stressed that, although Johnson has “made his judgment,” that’s “not the end of the process” — a process which, he has said, “is working out exactly as it was intended.”