Acknowledging that there was “no defense the city could invoke,” the City Council on Thursday authorized a $16 million settlement to the family of neighbor/bystander Bettie Jones, who was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo on Dec. 26, 2015, the same night Rialmo shot and killed bat-wielding teenager Quintonio LeGrier.
“Regrettably, Bettie Jones was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) told his colleagues prior to the final vote.
Noting that the Jones family originally demanded $60 million and settled for about one-fourth of that amount, Burke said: “It’s good that the family can now get some closure and go on with their lives.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who represents the West Side ward where the shooting took place, said Bettie Jones was “a mother, a grandmother who was simply trying to help” on the night that she and LeGrier were gunned down.
Ervin said the shooting will “forever be cemented in my brain.” He expressed relief that Chicago Police officers and 911 center dispatchers are finally getting the crisis intervention training “they need and deserve.”
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 LeGrier and accidentally killed his neighbor, Jones.
At committee meeting earlier this week, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel told aldermen the decision to settle with the Jones family, first announced in June on the eve of a trial, was made after city attorneys failed in their repeated efforts to sever the case from LeGrier’s.
“The shooting death of Bettie Jones, an innocent bystander who was trying to help a neighbor and police, was clearly a tragedy. In evaluating the case for potential settlement, the legal team had to account for the profound sympathy that any jury would likely have for the Jones family and the impact on the combined potential verdict in the Jones and LeGrier cases,” Siskel said.
“We had to confront the very real possibility that the jury’s attention would have focused on compensating Jones’ family for their terrible loss, regardless of whether they believed the shooting was legally justified. … The death of Jones … would likely have controlled the narrative of the cases. … As it was, the LeGrier jury found the shooting justified…. Had Jones been tried at the same time, it is likely the city would have been subject to a significant jury verdict in both cases.”
Siskel reiterated Rialmo’s claim that the last time he observed Bettie Jones before the shooting, she was turning to walk back into her apartment. But Rialmo also has admitted he fired his weapon “in the direction of the area in which he had last seen” Jones without first accounting for her whereabouts, the corporation counsel said.
Siskel also cited yet another factor that might have triggered an even larger jury verdict in favor of the Jones family.
“Letitia Jones, Bettie Jones’ daughter, was present in the home on the night of the incident. She claims to have been narrowly missed by a bullet which traveled the length of the home and struck a bathroom wall close to where she was sitting,” Siskel said.
“After the shooting, Letitia held her mother’s head in her lap until paramedics came to take her mother to the hospital.”
In late June, a Cook County jury initially awarded $1 million in damages to the LeGrier family, then washed away its own judgment — and that compensation — by saying Rialmo justifiably believed his own life was in danger when he opened fire on the teen.
Rialmo’s fate now rests with the Police Board after Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson ruled the shooting justified, contradicting the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.