Chicago Police officials this week announced they had reprimanded a police commander who put Officer Robert Rialmo back on the street while he was under investigation for fatally shooting two people.
But in court filings, Rialmo claims his return to patrol was no mistake by police brass, and he was put back on desk duty only because of a rift with city lawyers in a lawsuit filed by the families of the shooting victims.
Rialmo was assigned to “administrative duties” last year after shooting 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones, 55, in a West Garfield Park apartment building.
Rialmo was the first officer to be taken off the street for a mandatory 30-day stint on desk duty under a new CPD policy for officers involved in on-duty shootings. Rialmo has since split with the CPD, hiring his own lawyer to defend against a lawsuit by the LeGrier and Jones families.
Still, Rialmo returned to patrol this summer, and he continued working the streets for six months before CPD brass said they caught the “administrative error” and put him back behind a desk. City officials said 16th District Cmdr. William Looney had been issued a letter of reprimand for the glitch.
Rialmo this week filed a new version of a cross-claim lawsuit he had filed against LeGrier and the CPD in April, and he claims it was “a blatantly false statement” that his return to desk duty was just correcting a mistake.
“I know that they knew [he was back on patrol], because I told them. I had discussions, because they were dragging their ass on putting him on the street,” said Joel Brodsky, Rialmo’s attorney.
“They’re absolutely terrified. This is the first time in the history of the city, that the city has had a cop that shot someone [and] wasn’t in the control of the city or one of the city-picked lawyers,” Brodsky said. “They don’t know what he’s going to say.”
City Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Thursday that there was no retaliation or threats against Rialmo.
“It was an administrative error that allowed him to be detailed,” McCaffrey said. “He returned to administrative duty in November. His return to administrative duties had nothing to do with this litigation or his filing an amended cross-claim.”
Brodsky said he made numerous calls to the CPD this spring, seeking to get Rialmo put back on street duty before the officer was reassigned to the department’s “summer mobile unit” in June.
Rialmo stayed on patrol, making arrests without incident, until Nov. 3, two days after Rialmo declined to let lawyers hired by the city assist in his preparation for depositions related to a lawsuit filed by Jones’ and LeGrier’s families.
Looney received a formal reprimand this week for “his involvement in Robert Rialmo being detailed to an operational unit despite being assigned to administrative duties only,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “Although this was deemed to be a careless oversight, the Department takes it seriously and the written form of discipline is significant and rare for command staff members.”
Rialmo and the city were sued by Jones’ and LeGrier’s families — as often happens in police shootings — but Rialmo took the rare step of hiring his own attorney. In April, he made the even more unusual move of filing counter-lawsuits against both LeGrier’s estate and the CPD, and city officials can’t be happy with what the officer has said in court filings to date.
Rialmo gave a detailed description of his fatal encounter with LeGrier in his countersuit, in which he seeks damages from the teen’s family for emotional distress caused by the shooting.
And in his cross-suit against the CPD, Rialmo has said that the department did not adequately train officers to deal with people in “mental health crisis,” and that CPD dispatchers who sent him to LeGrier’s Garfield Park home did not inform him that LeGrier was “dealing with a mental illness,” though the teen had made several distressed calls to 911.
Rialmo said Jones met officers at the door of the apartment building, and that LeGrier emerged from his apartment wielding a baseball bat. When LeGrier swung the bat at Rialmo, Rialmo fired several times, striking LeGrier and Jones, who had been standing behind LeGrier.
Rialmo claims lawyers for the CPD threatened him that if he pressed his case against the department and LeGrier, and that they pulled him off patrol duties send a message “that if he didn’t ‘toe the line,’ and do what the City of Chicago wanted him to do, they were going to hurt him financially, hurt his career in public service and law enforcement and injure his reputation.”
Brodsky said lawyers for the city threatened that the city would not indemnify Rialmo, potentially putting him on the hook for a multimillion-dollar judgment in the LeGrier and Jones families’ lawsuits.
McCaffrey said the city must indemnify city employees for lawful, on-the-job incidents, but that the contract with the police officers’ union states that cops have to “cooperate” with city attorneys or the department will not pay for legal representation. The city is not paying Brodsky’s bills, McCaffrey said.
The fatal shootings were the first by a CPD officer to come after the release last November of video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, images that shocked the conscience of city residents and set protesters marching in the streets.
Rialmo was the first officer to be placed on a mandatory 30-day desk assignment after a shooting, a policy the department adopted after the McDonald outcry.
Rialmo completed counseling sessions and met with a department-assigned mentor following the shooting, and he was cleared for duty by a department psychologist. While working with the “summer mobile unit” patrolling beaches and parks this summer, Brodsky said Rialmo did a “stellar” job.”
“He did everything they asked him to do,” Brodsky said. “The policy is [desk duty[ for 30 days. It’s not ‘until the investigation is over,’ because that could take years.”
Bill Foutris, the lawyer representing LeGrier’s family, said that it always seemed improbable to him that Rialmo would have spent months working in patrol without his superiors knowing it.
“With how much media attention this case has garnered, I don’t think there’s any chance the commander in his district didn’t know who this guy was, or that he was under investigation for killing two people,” Foutris said. “Would you put Van Dyke back on the street? There’s a couple of police officers out there whose names are on the street, and Robert Rialmo is definitely one of them.”