City’s settlement with Bettie Jones estate is $16 million: sources
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The estate of Bettie Jones — an innocent bystander fatally shot by Officer Robert Rialmo in 2015 — has agreed to settle with the city for $16 million, sources said Monday.
The settlement with the estate of the 55-year-old grandmother was reached last Friday, just days before the wrongful death trial was expected to start. It is still subject to approval from the Finance Committee and full City Council. But terms were not disclosed at that time.
“While no amount of money can ever compensate Bettie Jones’ family for the loss of their mother, we fought for and the City of Chicago has agreed to pay an amount that is fair when compared to local and national police-involved shooting cases,” Larry Rogers Jr. and Jonathan Thomas, attorneys for the Jones estate, said in a statement.
“This settlement respects who Bettie Jones was, that she died unjustifiably and it will allow the Jones family to begin with the healing process and move forward with their lives,” the statement added.
Shortly after the Dec. 26, 2015, shooting, Chicago Police took the unprecedented step of saying that Jones was “accidentally” shot.
The wrongful death suits against the city and Rialmo were filed shortly after the officer fatally shot the two people in the 4700 block of West Erie on Dec. 26, 2015. The shooting was the first fatal shooting by a Chicago police officer after the release of the Laquan McDonald video.
Police were called to Quintonio LeGrier’s father’s home for a domestic incident between Antonio LeGrier and his son — who was suffering from a mental episode as he was home on winter break from Northern Illinois University.
After Jones opened the front door for Rialmo, the younger LeGrier charged at Riamo with a metal baseball bat. The officer opened fire, killing both Quintonio LeGrier and Jones.
The city’s Law Department declined to comment on the settlement proposal since it is still subject to approval.
Joel Brodsky, Rialmo’s attorney, issued a statement saying that Rialmo has “no problem” with the agreement and the city’s intent to settle was “a vindication of his actions.”
“Officer Rialmo has no problem with the City of Chicago paying compensation to the family of Bettie Jones, even though there is a question of legal liability, because she was assisting the police when she was killed,” Brodsky said.
“Since Officer Rialmo is not a party to the settlement, and is being voluntarily dismissed by the Jones Estate, the only possible conclusion is that the City of Chicago is paying for its own negligent actions, and not because of anything Officer Rialmo did. Officer Rialmo and his attorneys consider the dismissal of the claims against him to be a vindication of his actions on December 26, 2015.”
Last year, the City Council approved a $31 million settlement with the Englewood Four. Also last year, a federal jury returned a $44.7 million verdict for a man shot in the head by a Chicago Police officer.
The Englewood Four settlement was believed to be the largest in Chicago history stemming from allegations of police abuse, though it was divided by four.
The largest payment to a single plaintiff went to LaTanya Haggerty. Unarmed African-American civilians Haggerty, 26, and Robert Russ, 22, were fatally shot by Chicago Police officers after separate police pursuits on the same June 1999 weekend. That touched off a summer filled with protests about alleged police brutality.
Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration subsequently agreed to pay $18 million in damages to the Haggerty family and $9.6 million to the Russ family.
The LeGrier estate’s wrongful death lawsuit is still active and is expected to go to trial this month, with jury selection beginning this week.
Last year, COPA — formerly the Independent Police Review Authority — ruled that Rialmo was not justified when he shot LeGrier and Jones. The police oversight agency recommended he be fired.
The investigators say evidence suggested Rialmo was farther from LeGrier than he said he was when he fired on the teen.
Johnson rebuked those findings and recommendations in a letter to COPA, saying that Rialmo’s actions were within department policy. Eventually, a single member of the police board found that there was sufficient cause to bring the shooting case before the full police board. That matter is still pending.
Attorneys for the LeGrier and Jones estates filed several motions for sanctions against the city throughout the pre-trial proceedings, arguing that city attorneys allowed an expert witness to give false testimony.
Contributing: Fran Spielman