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Chicago cop ‘not justified’ in fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier: COPA

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier.

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos

Police oversight investigators have ruled that Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo was “not justified” when he opened fire on Quintonio LeGrier two years ago in the vestibule of a West Side home, a shooting that left the teen and a 55-year-old bystander dead.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released a report Thursday saying its investigators found “no evidence” to support Rialmo’s assertions that any of the shots he fired at the 19-year-old on Dec. 26, 2015, were necessary.

After the incident — in a second statement to a CPD detective that differed from his initial account — Rialmo had claimed LeGrier swung a baseball bat at him, prompting him to shoot. Bettie Jones was “tragically” killed by an errant gunshot, police have said.

Thursday’s report said Rialmo’s statements were “inconsistent and ultimately unreliable.”

The investigators say evidence suggested Rialmo was farther from LeGrier than he said he was when he fired on the teen in the front entrance vestibule of the West Garfield Park building where LeGrier was staying with his father while on break from Northern Illinois University.

“We find a reasonable officer in Officer Rialmo’s position would not have believed he was in imminent harm of death or great bodily harm at the time Officer Rialmo began firing his weapon,” the investigators stated.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson now has up to 90 days to decide whether to recommend Rialmo’s firing to the Chicago Police Board, which metes out punishment in officer misconduct cases.

“We take discipline very seriously but, it would be premature for the department to make any comments until our review is complete,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.

COPA’s report vindicated the long-running assertions of LeGrier’s father, Antonio, who was at home when Rialmo shot his son and Jones, his tenant in the building he owned. He has said his son was “agitated” while having an early morning mental health episode that prompted both of them to call for police help.

Basileios “Bill” Foutris, the lawyer for Antonio LeGrier, blasted police and lawyers for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Thursday, calling on them to stop perpetuating CPD’s “code of silence.”

Quintonio LeGrier with his foster mom Mary Strenger at his graduation from Brooks Academy. | Strenger family photo

Detective Daniel Jensen found the shooting was justified and closed the case as non-criminal, reports show.

“They tried to cover this up from Day 1,” Foutris said. “This is the first step in clearing the air and setting the record straight.”

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on the day of the shootings, Antonio Legrier said Rialmo “knew he had shot, blindly, reckless into the doorway, and now two people are dead because of it.”

“COPA’s findings are exactly what Antonio and Quintonio’s family have been saying to you since that day,” Foutris said Thursday. “It’s the exact opposite of what the city has been saying since then.”

The shootings of LeGrier and Jones came about a month after the city finally released video of an officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the South Side, a scandal that has led to massive reform efforts in the beleaguered police department.

Rialmo, who was taken off the street and assigned to desk duty in the wake of the shooting, has sued LeGrier’s family and the city, citing emotional trauma and improper training. He has continued to collect his $84,054 salary, city payroll records show.

“I challenge any person to honestly put themselves in the same situation, and say they would not do the same as Officer Rialmo did,” Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, wrote in a statement.

Brodsky called COPA’s findings “clearly political in nature,” saying they were designed “to preserve votes for the Mayor at the expense of a good Police Officer who was doing his job in a dangerous neighborhood late at night, and who did what he had to do to save his life.”

Martin Preib, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union was “very disappointed in the decision by COPA and will provide Officer Rialmo all the representation he is entitled to.”

The city also filed suit against LeGrier’s estate, a move that was quickly rescinded earlier this month and decried as a “callous” mistake by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In February, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office announced it would not pursue criminal charges against Rialmo. COPA investigators said their findings weren’t “in conflict” with prosecutors’ decision because the oversight agency rules on “the preponderance of evidence,” as opposed to the higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to obtain a criminal conviction.

The decision not to prosecute outraged Jones’ and LeGrier’s families, who have sued Rialmo and the city in civil court.

“The city of Chicago has consistently maintained that these were justified shootings up until today,” said attorney Larry Rogers, who is representing Jones’ family. “It’s now time for them to step up and do what’s right for these families.”

Police reports obtained by the Sun-Times indicated that Rialmo gave shifting accounts of the shooting in police interviews.

Rialmo and his partner, Anthony LaPalermo, arrived at the home of the elder LeGrier around 4:38 a.m. after the father and son had both placed calls to 911. The cops were driving a police van that wasn’t equipped with a GPS tracking device or dashcam when they pulled up to the two-flat at 4710 W. Erie.

Friends and relatives held a vigil on Dec. 27 outside the home where Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier were shot and killed. | Getty Images

Jones — Antonio LeGrier’s downstairs neighbor — let police in. Police have said she was accidentally killed when Rialmo opened fire.

According to Rialmo’s interview less than two hours after the shooting, he said he rang the doorbell, and Jones motioned that there was trouble upstairs. Jones “turned to walk back into her apartment” when “Quintonio LeGrier pulled the front door all the way open” with the bat above his head.

“Rialmo started to back up as LeGrier started onto the front porch” and drew his gun while ordering LeGrier to drop the bat, the police report said.

“Rialmo in fear of his life discharged his weapon three to four times. … Rialmo stated he was stepping backwards down the stairs while discharging his service weapon and stopped at the bottom of the [porch] stairs on the walkway leading to the house.”

But COPA investigators now say Rialmo was much farther from LeGrier, between the curb in front of the apartment building and the stairs.

The Cook County medical examiner later determined that LeGrier was shot six times and Bettie Jones once.

Antonio LeGrier had come down from the apartment upstairs, and he said Rialmo yelled “Dad, what the f—” at him. Rialmo said he heard Antonio LeGrier respond, “Hey, you did what you had to do.”

Foutris said the comment attributed to Antonio Legrier was “absolutely not” true. “It defies words,” Foutris said. “He’s there watching his son bleed to death.”

Friends and family grieve at Quintonio LeGrier’s funeral in February 2016. | Lou Foglia/ for The Sun-Times

LaPalermo, first interviewed at 6:22 a.m. the morning of the shooting, told detectives he was just behind Rialmo to the right and that “Jones turned back towards her apartment.” LaPalermo said he saw LeGrier holding the bat and told Rialmo to “look out” before Rialmo fired “six to eight times.” LaPalermo also said he’d drawn his gun while going down the porch stairs but never fired.

The officers were interviewed separately again on Dec. 28. This time, Rialmo said he “heard someone charging down the stairs from the second floor” and that “Quintonio LeGrier opened the door leading from the second floor apartment and stepped into the vestibule.”

Rialmo told detectives he started backing out the door when LeGrier stepped in between Jones and him. Moments later, he said, LeGrier began swinging the bat.

In his second interview, LaPalermo replied that he was “looking down as he backed down the stairs and did not see Quintonio LeGrier swing the bat.”