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Rialmo to face full Police Board after Johnson rebuked

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier. | Provided photos

A single member of the Chicago Police Board sided with the city’s civilian police oversight agency Thursday night, putting Officer Robert Rialmo’s future with the CPD in the hands of the board’s eight other mayorally appointed members.

Board member Eva-Dina Delgado rebuked the findings of Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, who said last month that “Officer Rialmo’s actions were justified and within department policy” when he fatally shot Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier in December 2015. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability said Rialmo should be fired. Johnson said he should face no discipline.

Rialmo’s adherence to department policy and his future as a Chicago Police officer will now be determined by the board’s eight other members. Disciplinary decisions by the board usually take months to reach.

“It’s the only decision if you look at this objectively,” Basileios “Bill” Foutris, an attorney for the LeGrier estate, said after the board meeting. “The problem I have is that it should never have come down to one board member breaking a tie.”

Delgado did not elaborate on her decision to side to COPA.

“COPA and I disagree, and sometimes that’s going to happen,” Johnson said after the meeting. “But the important thing is there’s a process in place to resolve disagreements.”

Chicago Police Ofc. Robert Rialmo | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo | Sun-Times file photo

The heater case landed in the Police Board members laps after Johnson met “multiple times” with Patricia Banks, acting administrator of COPA, in a failed attempt to find middle ground.

That’s not surprising considering their widely divergent views of the first police shooting to follow the November 2015 release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

After an exhaustive review of the evidence, COPA had 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 had called into question 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.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson addresses reporters after Thursday night’s police board meeting. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

“COPA improperly analyzed this incident using the 20/20 clarity of hindsight rather than that contained in the Department’s directives on the use of force,” Johnson wrote.

“When analyzing Officer Rialmo’s decisions with the benefit of hindsight, COPA suggests that, because the officer created distance, he could and therefore should have created additional distance. . . . However, department policy does not require officers to do so.”

The Police Board member in the hot seat had 10 business days — until April 25 — to decide whether Rialmo should stay or go.

Thursday’s decision to advance the Rialmo case to the rest of the police board comes as a wrongful death suit filed by the LeGrier and Jones estates against Rialmo and the city works its way through Cook County Circuit Court.

The looming police board decision and court case are not Rialmo’s only concern.

Last December, he was involved in a fight at a restaurant on the Northwest Side. The incident was captured on security footage which was released by COPA and Rialmo was charged with theft and battery. That case is still pending. Last year, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office announced it would not charge Rialmo in the Jones/LeGrier shooting.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky said: “We are profoundly saddened that politics, concern over votes, and public opinion has again trumped the facts and the truth. COPA made a deeply flawed decision ignoring the facts and the law. Superintendent Johnson made a brave decision that Officer Rialmo was justified, focusing only on the facts.”

Records show that, prior to the Rialmo case, Johnson has disagreed with COPA’s findings and recommendations for police discipline five other times in the last two years. A member of the police board has sided with him twice.

Janet Cooksey, mother of Quintonio LeGrier, speaks after Thursday’s police board meeting. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

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 the bat-wielding LeGrier and accidentally killed his neighbor, Jones.

Attorneys for the victims’ families and African-American aldermen who are among Johnson’s staunchest supporters were stunned and outraged by the superintendent’s decision.

Johnson also got an earful earlier this month from a room-full of black ministers, elected officials and community leaders, all of whom “felt like it was an unjustified shooting,” said Chicago Urban League President Shari Runner.

“This was not a meeting where he was let off the hook because he was the African-American superintendent of police. This was very much people saying to him, ‘You, of all people, have to have the right message and you have to do the right thing,’” Runner said after the meeting.