Foxx rejects call for special prosecutor in fatal shooting of 2 by Chicago cop
Thursday, January 04, 2018
by Gregory Pratt
Several black political and religious leaders called on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Thursday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the fatal 2015 police shooting of a baseball bat-clutching teen and an innocent bystander.
But Foxx’s office quickly rejected the idea, reiterating in a statement that her office had already reviewed the evidence last February and “concluded there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges.”
Meanwhile, a letter obtained by the Tribune shows that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability had recommended that Officer Robert Rialmo be fired “for his unjustified use of deadly force.” The news that COPA had ruled the shooting unjustified emerged late last week, but COPA had not revealed its recommendation to fire Rialmo.
“COPA believes that this is a fair and reasonable result based on the totality of the circumstances,” Andrea Kersten, COPA’s deputy chief administrator, wrote police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in the letter.
At Thursday’s news conference in the County Building, the community leaders also called on Johnson to fire Rialmo over the fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones, 55, while responding to an early morning domestic disturbance on the West Side the day after Christmas in 2015.
In pressing for the firing and the appointment of a special prosecutor, the group, including Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, repeatedly cited COPA’s findings.
The decision by COPA came days after lawyers for the city of Chicago had abruptly backed off controversial plans to sue LeGrier’s estate.
LeGrier's mental health has been a key issue in the litigation that followed his death, and the city's aborted lawsuit said he failed to take medication to control an unspecified mental illness.
Jones, who lived downstairs at the address where LeGrier was staying with his father, answered the door when police responded to the 911 calls. LeGrier then came down the stairs with a baseball bat, according to an analysis released by Foxx's office in February.
The officers started to move backward onto the front landing as LeGrier came at them with the bat, prosecutors wrote. As Rialmo backed down the stairs, he fired eight times, hitting LeGrier six times, according to prosecutors. Jones, who stood behind the teen during the incident, was shot once in the chest, prosecutors wrote.
Rialmo has stipulated in court that he knew Jones was close by when he fired, though his attorney has said Rialmo was nonetheless justified in firing in self-defense.
COPA's investigation, though, cast doubt on Rialmo's version of events.
No one, including the other officer at the scene, corroborated Rialmo's account of LeGrier swinging the bat, investigators wrote. In fact, in his first statement to a detective, Rialmo did not say LeGrier swung the bat, according to COPA. Rialmo also gave differing accounts of where he was in comparison with LeGrier when the teen allegedly swung the bat, investigators wrote.
COPA’s ruling turned in part on investigators' determination that the evidence indicated that LeGrier did not swing the bat at Rialmo, as the officer has said. Investigators also found that the evidence — including shell casings, witness statements and forensic analysis — also suggested Rialmo was farther away from LeGrier when he fired than the officer has said.
LeGrier fell in the vestibule of an apartment building, and Rialmo said he opened fire from the building's front porch, but investigators determined it was more likely the officer was between the bottom of the porch and the sidewalk out front.
Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, has said COPA focused on "totally insignificant" discrepancies.
The shooting attracted wide attention because of the bystander's death and because it was the first fatal police shooting after the court-ordered release of video of an officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times a few weeks earlier. That video outraged Chicagoans, many of them black, who aired decades’ worth of objections about their treatment by police.
Foxx beat incumbent Anita Alvarez largely due to outrage over the state’s attorney’s handling of the shooting, though Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder. He awaits trial.
As part of her campaign, Foxx called for every police-involved shooting to be investigated by a special prosecutor, but she distanced herself from that pledge after taking office.
At the news conference Thursday, the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a pastor who knows the Jones family, said the issue with Rialmo was “not complicated.”
“COPA found that he discharged his weapon unjustifiably,” said Hatch, who heads the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the West Side. “Two people are dead.”
Hatch, who also supported a special prosecutor, called Rialmo’s continued employment “an insult” to both families.
“There’s been no consequence,” Hatch said. “The least we can expect is for Superintendent Johnson to take the report of COPA and fire Rialmo.”