2015 student death ruled unjustified; Chicago Police officer at fault

By James Krause

CHICAGO — Chicago’s police oversight committee released a report sustaining allegations that an officer used excessive force in the 2015 fatal shooting of a NIU student.
The report, released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability Dec. 22, determined Chicago Police Department officer Robert Rialmo was unjustified in his use of force that led to the deaths of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones, 55. LeGrier was on break from NIU at the time of the shooting. 
Rialmo arrived at the 4700 block of West Erie Street in Chicago in response to a domestic disturbance call Dec. 26, 2015. Upon arrival, Jones pointed officers to the second floor where LeGrier was. LeGrier came to the door with an aluminum baseball bat. Rialmo then opened fire and shot the 19-year-old, accidentally striking Jones.
The police oversight committee report questioned Rialmo’s recountings of the incident. Rialmo said LeGrier swung the bat at him, however no other witnesses, including fellow officers, supported his claim. Rialmo also said he was on the porch steps of the building, but shell casings were found closer to the curb of the road.
The report found Rialmo’s statements to be inconsistent, and the actions were not within policy.
“In sum, a reasonable officer in Officer Rialmo’s position would not have believed he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at any time that Officer Rialmo fired his weapon,” according to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability report. 
The report sustains allegations of unjustified use of force, firing into a home occupied by persons at risk of injury or death and working without proper taser certification.
Daniel McConkie, NIU College of Law professor, said similar incidents take time for groups like the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to review because they aim for accuracy while taking public interest into account.
“It’s not clear to me why it took so long,” McConkie said. “I can’t speculate. All I can say is it’s very important to get it right, but it’s within the public interest to get it out quickly. People lose confidence in public actions and investigations when they drag on for years for whatever the reason is.”
Andrea Kersten, Civilian Office of Police Accountability deputy chief administrator, made recommendations to fire Rialmo in a letter to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson Dec. 22, according to a Jan. 4 Chicago Sun-Times article. 
Johnson now has 90 days to decide to relay the recommendation to the Chicago Police Board.
McConkie believes the decision for Johnson will be a tough one as many factors come into play, including public trust and the allegations by Rialmo in a lawsuit against the city that the city provided poor training, according to a Dec. 29 Chicago Tribune article.
McConkie said the officer was, at the very least, improperly trained, which may play into the superintendent’s decision.
“Assuming [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability] is correct, it would probably be a good idea to fire the officer, if only to restore some public confidence in the system,” McConkie said. “I shouldn’t say if only, but one good reason is that it restores public confidence in the system. At a minimum, we have an officer that wasn’t adequately trained.”
The Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, the union that represents Rialmo, said they “strongly denounce the ruling” and have requested Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate the Civilian Office of Police Accountability because there is “compelling evidence that members of [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability] are leaking information on confidential investigations to reporters,” according to a Fraternal Order of Police Thursday press release.
McConkie said public perception of police action has changed a lot over the past several years and accountability is becoming more and more important.
“We live in a day and age where lots of people rarely accept police action unquestionably,” McConkie said. “The work of a body like [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability] is important in building trust.”
The Fraternal Order of Police declined a request for comment from the Northern Star. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability did not respond to a request for comment from the Northern Star.