Courtroom confusion: Conflicted jury verdict means no damages for LeGrier family
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Moments after a jury awarded the family of Quintonio LeGrier $1.05 million in a wrongful death trial, a Cook County judge negated that verdict because jurors also said that officer Robert Rialmo was correct to use deadly force since he was in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm.
The unusual sequence of events unfolded Wednesday evening at the Richard J. Daley Center on the eighth and final day of the wrongful death trial — an often divisive case that sought to get to the bottom of the heart-wrenching first fatal shooting by a Chicago Police officer after the Laquan McDonald video was released.
The final confusion in the case centered around the special interrogatory put to the jury:
“When Robert Rialmo used deadly force against Quintonio LeGrier, did Robert Rialmo reasonably believe that such force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or [his partner] Anthony LaPalermo?”
The six men and six women of the jury unanimously said “Yes,” effectively wiping out the $1.05 million they had awarded to the LeGrier estate for their wrongful death and pain and suffering claims.
In the order she signed after the jury verdict was read, Judge Rena Marie Van Tine wrote: “The court finds that the special interrogatory governs.”
A spokesman for the city’s law department declined to comment.
Basileios “Bill” Foutris, a LeGrier estate attorney who delivered closing arguments, said, “The city got judgment on a legal technicality.”
“The city won when we clearly proved our case,” Foutris said, adding that “we are going to be exploring all of our options going forward.”
The LeGrier estate had asked they be awarded between $12.55 million and $25.05 million.
“If he’s justified using deadly force, there are no damages,” Rialmo’s attorney Joel Brodsky said after the award money was vacated.
Throughout the trial, Brodsky and attorneys for the city had repeatedly said that the shooting was justified. The special interrogatory, Brodsky said, showed that the jury agreed.
Rialmo, who fatally shot LeGrier and Bettie Jones, counter-sued the LeGrier estate for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In another strange twist, the jury found in Rialmo’s favor in the emotional distress claim but awarded him nothing.
It is unclear whether jurors were aware that answering the special interrogatory in the affirmative would negate all damages. In fact, the foreman said that jurors believed the question was there to gauge how they believed Rialmo was feeling in the moment of the shooting.
“The special question, we believed, was more from Robert Rialmo’s perspective, what Robert Rialmo was thinking when he did that,” jury foreman Dave Fitzsimmons said.
After the verdict was read, Fitzsimmons was asked point blank if he believed the shooting was justified.
He responded by saying, “I don’t think Officer Rialmo is a bad person necessarily, I think he just made a bad decision in the moment.”
Fitzsimmons was also asked how the jury calculated the $1.05 million award. He said the figure came from potential income that LeGrier would have made throughout the rest of his life.
“We weren’t so much as inclined to say that the family itself, that the mom and dad were necessarily entitled to anything over and above that,” he said.
The verdict came on the eighth day of trial after attorneys for the LeGrier estate, the city and Rialmo delivered their final pitches to the jury about why jurors should find in their favor.
“Everything Rialmo said was absurd,” Foutris said. “You can’t believe anything this man says.”
The estate of LeGrier sued Rialmo and the city shortly after Rialmo fatally shot the 19-year-old and Jones, the elder LeGrier’s downstairs neighbor. Rialmo, in turn, sued the LeGrier estate.
Foutris said Rialmo’s decision to sue the LeGrier estate was “in a word, callous.” That was the same word used by Mayor Rahm Emanuel when the city, briefly, had counter-sued the LeGrier estate late last year.
Rialmo and his partner, LaPalermo, responded to 4710 W. Erie about 4:25 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2015 after LeGrier and his father had both made calls to police. The elder LeGrier had barricaded himself in his room with a 2 x 4 a few hours earlier, and he was awoken when his son tried to force his way inside.
Rialmo and LaPalermo arrived and were met at the door by Jones, the elder LeGrier’s downstairs neighbor. Rialmo has said that, as the officers were on the small front porch to the property, the younger LeGrier came down the stairs and around the door with an aluminum baseball bat raised above his head. Rialmo has said that he backpedaled off the porch and opened fire.
The LeGrier estate has argued that the physical evidence at the scene shows that Rialmo was in the walkway and that LeGrier was still in the vestibule of the building when he was shot.
“The people that came to help him killed him,” Foutris said.