The City Council’s Finance Committee signed off Monday on one of the largest settlements ever triggered by a Chicago Police shooting.
The $16 million settlement will go 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.
Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said 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.”
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.
On Monday, 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 Supt. Eddie Johnson and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability strongly disagreed on whether the officer’s actions were justified in the first police shooting to follow the November 2015 release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
After an exhaustive review of the evidence, COPA ruled the shooting unjustified and raised questions about Rialmo’s version of events.
COPA concluded that although LeGrier had a baseball bat in his hands, 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 questioned COPA’s entire investigatory process, arguing that the agency looked at the shooting with the luxury of hindsight, instead of analyzing Rialmo’s actions from his perspective in the moment.
Before Monday’s vote, former longtime Police Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) asked what he called the “$16 million question”: What happened to body cam video of the LeGrier and Jones shooting?
Although all Chicago Police officers now have body cams, neither Rialmo nor his partner wore one that night, Siskel said.
Beale countered: “We had body cams in 2015. But quite a few were not operable.”
Under questioning from Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), Siskel also noted that both the Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications have made “great strides” in training officers to respond to victims of mental health crises and that a consent decree governing department reforms, which is awaiting approval by a federal judge, builds on that progress.
Also Monday, the Finance Committee authorized a $1.15 million settlement to Jauton Starks, who was struck and severely injured in October 2015 by a police vehicle engaged in a mile-long pursuit of a stolen vehicle — a chase at speeds approaching 80 mph.
First Deputy Corporation Counsel Katie Hill said Police Department orders should have ended the chase before that point. The victim, crossing a Southwest Side street on her way home from her job as a clerk at a downtown Walgreens, has said she saw no lights and heard no sirens prior to the crash.