A Chicago police officer who fatally shot a college student and his 55-year-old neighbor has filed a lawsuit against the teenager’s estate that blames the mentally ill 19-year-old for causing the officer “extreme emotional trauma.”
Officer Robert Rialmo’s lawsuit was filed Friday and offers the first public account of the moments before Rialmo shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier on Dec. 26. The suit claims that Rialmo, who was arriving at the scene of a domestic disturbance with another officer, opened fire after the teenager twice swung a bat at the officer’s head and then raised the weapon a third time, leading Rialmo to fear that his life was in danger, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The round that killed LeGrier also killed 55-year-old Bettie Jones, a downstairs neighbor and mother of five who was standing near LeGrier and was not part of the disturbance that had drawn police to the residence. In an apologetic statement the next day, police confirmed that her death was accidental.
Rialmo is seeking $10 million in damages, according to the Associated Press.
“The fact that LeGrier’s actions had forced Officer Rialmo to end LeGrier’s life and to accidentally take the innocent life of Bettie Jones has caused, and will continue to cause, Officer Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma,” the filing says.
The suit comes at a time when public officials are grappling with questions about how the Chicago Police Department can earn back public trust, which has been eroded by a series of shootings and other incidents involving police misconduct.
The Justice Department has opened a wide-ranging investigation into whether the department’s practices contribute to civil rights violations. The investigation was launched after the release of video in November showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was black. The footage led to murder charges for Van Dyke and the resignation of the city’s police chief.
Rialmo’s account differs sharply in key ways from claims made by LeGrier’s father, Antonio LeGrier, who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court. That suit — which called the shooting “excessive and unreasonable — claims the teenager “never had possession or control of a weapon” and “never posed a danger of threat or harm,” according to the Tribune.
The suit claims that Rialmo was outside the two-story building when he fired his weapon but that the teenager was inside, the paper reported. LeGrier’s suit also states that while his son lay on the ground bleeding to death, Rialmo “did not do anything to try to provide [him] medical care.”
Antonio LeGrier’s attorney, Basileios Foutris, told the AP that Rialmo’s highly unusual suit — which is a countersuit in the LeGrier case — is “outlandish.”
“After this coward shot a teenager in the back … he has the temerity to sue him?” he said. “That’s a new low for the Chicago Police Department.”
Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, told the Tribune that his client is going through a grieving process and that the lawsuit is an opportunity to tell the officer’s side of the story. He said the presumption is that his client is at fault for the shooting.
“He’s got this extra added burden [with] the death of Jones,” Brodsky said. “He’s going through what I would call the normal grieving process for someone who is forced to take a human life.”
The suit states that Rialmo arrived at LeGrier’s residence around 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 26, according to the AP. After ringing the doorbell and being let in by Jones, the suit claims the officer stepped through the doorway and heard someone “charging down the stairway,” according to the AP.
The suit states that LeGrier “cocked” the bat and that when he was downstairs he “took a full swing” at the officer, according to the Tribune. The suit states that the bat missed Rialmo’s head by inches but was “close enough for Officer Rialmo to feel the movement of air as the bat passed in front of his face,” the Tribune said.
The suit adds that the officer backed away from LeGrier and repeatedly commanded the teen to drop the bat, but that he continued to move forward and swung the bat again, according to the AP. After backing down the steps, the officer finally pulled out his 9mm handgun and fired, according to the suit, when LeGrier raised his bat again from three or four feet away.
“Rialmo reasonably believed that if he did not use deadly force against LeGrier, that LeGrier would kill him,” the suit states, according to the Tribune. “Officer Rialmo drew his handgun from its holster, and starting to fire from holster level, fired eight rounds at LeGrier from his 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun, which holds 18 rounds, in approximately two and a half seconds.”
The suit adds that the “fourth round that Officer Rialmo fired passed through LeGrier and struck Bettie Jones, who unbeknownst to Officer Rialmo, was standing in the front doorway to the building … behind LeGrier and partially exposed to any gunfire that might pass through LeGrier.”
An autopsy determined that LeGrier suffered six bullet wounds, according to the AP. Jones was killed by a single gunshot wound to her chest, according to the Tribune.
Lawyers for Antonio LeGrier and for Jones argue that evidence shows Rialmo was as far as 20 or 30 feet away when he fired his weapon, according to the AP.
Foutris told the AP that he’s skeptical about the idea that LeGrier would attack police, considering he’s the one who had called them to the residence in the first place.
“If you’re calling multiple times for help, are you going to charge a police officer and try to hit him with a bat?” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”