Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried Friday to undo the political damage caused by what he called a “callous” decision by city attorneys — made without his knowledge — that threatens to undermine his efforts to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Emanuel called the father of Quintonio LeGrier to apologize for his Law Department’s now-reversed decision to sue the estate of the bat-wielding teenager shot to death by a police officer in December 2015, along with innocent bystander Bettie Jones.
The mayor said he had no advance warning of the city’s motion and, when he found out about it, ordered it reversed.
“I called the father, Antonio, today and I said. ‘On behalf of the Law Department, I apologize,’ ” Emanuel said after the city’s abrupt about-face.
“I’ve talked to him before. I met with him before. We had a good conversation and he was incredibly gracious and understanding.”
As for the Law Department, Emanuel said: “They acknowledged that they were wrong … and changed their position. … It was callous for a family specifically that’s been through so much. … This was a mistake. It should have never been done in the first place.”
Sources said the mayor found out about the city’s decision to sue the LeGrier estate only after the story was posted on media websites late Thursday. The estate already is facing a lawsuit filed by Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo, who fired the fatal shots.
Emanuel was asked how a decision that important could have been made without his knowledge or sign-off.
“There are decisions made all the time like that,” he said.
“I had no knowledge they filed this case. It doesn’t really matter. … While I didn’t do it, I called the father and took [responsibility]. I said, ‘I apologize for it.’ We had a gracious conversation. And the good news is, the Law Department acknowledged up-front this morning they made a mistake and changed their position.”
Janet Cooksey, Quintonio LeGrier’s mother, said Friday that each December since his death, the “wound” it caused her is split open again. This week, the city not only reopened that wound, Cooksey said, but also “poured salt into it” with the initial plan to sue LeGrier’s estate.
“The city keeps adding to my pain,” Cooksey said. “They took my only child, but that wasn’t enough — you had to try and make him look bad. He tried to do the right thing. He called the police three times before they came because he knew he needed help. But when the moment came, they killed him.”
She said her son, who was her only child, had been an honor student who wanted to be an electronic engineer. Now, she says, her memories of him are the only thing that keep her sane.
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.
When Chicago Police finally did respond, they shot and killed the bat-wielding LeGrier, who was struggling with mental health issues, and accidentally killed Jones, 55, his neighbor.
The Law Department’s stunning and now-reversed decision comes as Emanuel is trying desperately to rebuild public trust shattered by his handling of the McDonald shooting video.
“The decision to sue the family of a mentally challenged young man who was shot and killed by the police appeared stunningly heartless,” newly reappointed Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said Friday.
“I am relieved there was a reversal. … But I fear for the precedent it set and, even with the reversal, profound damage has been done.”
The abrupt about-face appeased police reform advocates, but further alienated the union representing rank-and-file police officers.
“We are disappointed with the decision by the city to drop the lawsuit,” the Fraternal Order of Police said in an emailed statement.
Attorney Larry Rogers, who represents the Jones family, said the terms of the city’s suit were “ludicrous” and said it was heartbreaking that “the family has to spend another Christmas without [LeGrier] and with the city not stepping up.”
West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said a lawsuit against the LeGrier estate would not have “set the right precedent and tone that we, as a city, would like to set forth in this era of police reform.”
“This is a family that lost a son and another family that lost a mother and grandmother,” Ervin said.
“I hope the city can settle that matter with both families [of LeGrier and Jones] in an expeditious manner and move on from this horrific tragedy.”
South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) called the city’s now-dropped motion a “bad idea that was quickly corrected.”
“The lawsuit was insensitive to the family and people dealing with mental illness. It sent a very bad message that the city would go after assets from a family when the officer did not identify the mental illness that caused the whole situation,” said Beale, who knew LeGrier, who was a student at Gwendolyn Brooks H.S.
“We need to be sending more resources toward people who have mental illness. That way, we don’t have these issues. We’re spending money training the Police Department on identifying it. But we also need to spend more money on people who have these mental illnesses.”
The shootings of LeGrier and Jones prompted Emanuel to announce a 50 percent increase in crisis intervention training for police officers and at least one crisis intervention officer in every district on every watch.
The plan also called for full crisis intervention training certification for all field training officers and newly promoted officers, eight hours of in-service training on mental health awareness for all police officers and improved training for all 911 operators and dispatchers.
The U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the police shooting of McDonald concluded that CPD “uses force against people in crisis where force might have been avoided had a well-trained CIT officer responded to the scene and employed de-escalation techniques.”
Documentation of those incidents was “often insufficient to determine whether force was necessary, appropriate or lawful,” according to the report.
As a result of the inadequate documentation, all that was known are the “broad contours of terribly sad events” in which officers used force against people in crisis, the federal agency found.
“In one case, officers used a Taser against an unarmed, naked 65-year-old woman who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,” its report said.
“Officers used a Taser to subdue a mental [health patient] who ignored verbal commands because he was believed to be a danger to himself and others. . . . Officers who were responding to a call that a woman was ‘off meds and not violent’ Tasered an unarmed woman because she pulled away and repeatedly moved her arm.”
The court-ordered release of the McDonald shooting video in November 2015 was followed by weeks of demonstrations by protesters demanding Emanuel’s resignation.
The deaths of LeGrier and Jones were the first fatal police shootings to follow those demonstrations.