CHICAGO (CBS) — A group of Chicago ministers and activists is calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to guarantee former Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo won’t be hired by the city in any capacity, months after he was fired over a controversial police shooting.
“She can say on her watch Black lives will truly matter,” Rev. Ira Acree said as he joined other clergy and activists at City Hall on Tuesday to deliver a letter demanding the mayor ban Rialmo from any future city employment.
The Chicago Police Board voted unanimously last fall to fire Rialmo, nearly four years after he shot and killed 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and an innocent bystander, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, while responding to a domestic disturbance call on Dec. 26, 2015.
Cy Fields, pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church and co-chair of The Leaders Network, a faith-based social justice group, said Rialmo has publicly expressed interest in joining the Chicago Fire Department. Fields said Lightfoot should make sure Rialmo cannot become a firefighter, or be hired for any other city job.
“We want to send a message to the mayor that he should not be able again to wear the proud badge of an employee of the city of Chicago, one who has recklessly taken the lives of two individuals,” he said. “We think the mayor could go a long way today by denying him that opportunity, and to say, ‘Yes, police accountability matters, transparency matters, and police reform matters.’”
The Police Board ruled Rialmo didn’t do enough to protect innocent bystanders before opening fire on LeGrier, who charged at police while holding a baseball bat. Specifically, the board said Rialmo could have moved to a different position that would have allowed him to neutralize the threat posed by LeGrier without putting Jones in danger.
“Her death was entirely avoidable had Officer Rialmo, in reliance on his training and in compliance with the Department’s General Orders, acted reasonably in his use of deadly force. Officer Rialmo knew or reasonably should have known that Bettie Jones was in his line of fire and nonetheless chose to fire his weapon repeatedly in her direction,” the board wrote in its decision. “There were alternatives available to Officer Rialmo, including repositioning himself, as his partner had done, so that if Quintonio LeGrier increased his threat to the officers, the two officers could have fired at him without having Bettie Jones or other innocent bystanders in their line of fire. Officer Rialmo did not take any precautions to avoid killing Bettie Jones.”
A month after the Police Board voted to fire Rialmo, his attorneys filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to reverse that decision and reinstate him as an officer. That lawsuit is still pending.
Asked for a response to the demand Rialmo be banned from any future city employment, a spokesman for Lightfoot pointed to a statement she made earlier this month, when she was asked about Rialmo’s lawsuit.
“Officer Rialmo is a coward. Former Officer Rialmo is a coward. He has no place among the honorable men and women who wear the badge of the Chicago Police Department,” Lightfoot said at the time.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a question about whether Rialmo has been placed on the city’s “do not hire” list.
On the day after Christmas 2015, Rialmo and his partner were responding to calls about a domestic disturbance at LeGrier’s father’s home. Jones, who lived downstairs, opened the door and directed the officers to the apartment where LeGrier was staying with his father.
LeGrier, apparently suffering from mental health problems, came running down the stairs with a baseball bat. Rialmo fired eight shots, six of them hitting LeGrier, one of them hitting Jones, who was standing behind the teenager.
Rialmo has said he fired because LeGrier ran down the stairs with a baseball bat. The teen suffered from mental health issues.
In December 2017, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability recommended Rialmo be fired, asserting investigators they found no evidence to support Rialmo’s claim the shooting was necessary.
Former Police Supt. Eddie Johnson rejected COPA’s finding, calling the shooting “justified and within department policy.”
Johnson’s defense of Rialmo set the stage for a randomly selected member of the Police Board to decide whether they should dismiss COPA’s case, or take it to the full board.
LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, has said she feels justice was served when the Police Board fired Rialmo.
“It took four years, but I feel like I’m getting some justice for Quintonio,” Cooksey said on the fourth anniversary of her son’s death. “Robert Rialmo is no longer on the force, and that gives me the peace, and I’m sure as well as Quintonio.”
Cook County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Rialmo in the shooting. Both Jones’ and LeGrier’s families filed lawsuits against Rialmo and the city over their deaths.
The city settled Jones’ lawsuit for $16 million, but LeGrier’s lawsuit went to trial, resulting in an unusual verdict against Rialmo. The jury concluded Rialmo believed his life was in danger when he shot LeGrier, but awarded LeGrier’s family $1.05 million in damages, calling the shooting unjustified. As a result of those contradictions, a judge negated the monetary damages, because of the jury’s finding that Rialmo feared for his life.
Two years after the shooting, Rialmo was involved in a bar fight, and was charged with misdemeanor battery, but was acquitted after claiming self-defense.