2016-02-09 – There’s a peculiar lawsuit pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County. It is the counterclaim of Chicago cop Robert Rialmo against the estate of Antonio LeGrier, a kid he killed the day after last Christmas. One of the bullets that killed LeGrier apparently passed through LeGrier’s body and killed LeGrier’s neighbor Bettie Jones.
I don’t like to rely on press reports when the legal documents are easily accessible. And this one is. Click here if you want to see it. In paragraph 26, the complaint states:
The fact that LeGrier’s actions had forced Officer Rialmo to end LeGrier’s life, and to accidently take the innocent life of Bettie Jones, has caused, and will continue to cause, Officer Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma.
A rare glimpse of a cop feeling guilt.
But that’s not what struck me about this complaint. Although we rarely see it, I’m sure cops have “oops” moments, just like the rest of us. And when the “oops” result in the death of a mentally ill young man and an innocent bystander, it is natural to feel guilt. I don’t doubt that Robert Rialmo felt guilt for what he did.
The thing that struck me about this complaint is that the “oops” moment is clearly revealed.
When any narrative contains number, most people ignore them. The lawyer who prepared this complaint ignored them (though he emphasizes them by redundantly stating every number in words and parenthetical numerals). If you ignore the numbers, you get the impression that the cop was gravely threatened when he shot his gun.
I don’t ignore numbers.
When you initially evaluate a legal complaint in court, you take all the allegations as true (even if they may eventually prove to be false). That’s because any complaint purports to be the best case that the party has. So I will do the same, though I’m reaching an opposite conclusion than the lawyer intended.
Assuming the allegations to be true, officer Rialmo was indeed threatened when LeGrier was swinging a baseball bat at him on the porch of his home. I’m sure he felt afraid. But according to the complaint, Rialmo retreated to safety before he began firing at LeGrier. Oops.
How do I know that? The numbers. Rialmo’s lawyers scrupulously tell us that he retreated down the steps of LeGrier’s front porch. He was at the bottom and LeGrier remained at the top. The complaint gives measurements. The complaint doesn’t have a picture of LeGrier’s front porch steps, but based on the measurements given in the complaint, we know that this is typical of front porch steps in Chicago. Even my own front porch steps conform to these specifications. (If you go to Google Maps Street View, you’ll see the house and the elevation difference between the top and the bottom of the stairs. The gray building appears to be the one referred to in the complaint.)
So we have a guy at the top of the stairs swinging a baseball bat, and a cop at the bottom. It may be a pretty deranged scene, but it’s no longer an imminent threat.
At this point, I’d like to see a professional cop retreat further to see if he can defuse the situation. LeGrier hasn’t started coming down the stairs (according to the complaint) and if he does, he’s likely to be off balance if he tries to swing at the cop who is now down at the level of his feet. He’s no longer really threatened. According to the complaint, it wasn’t until this moment that officer Rialmo drew his gun and began firing.
I know some of you are going to say that, it’s still in the heat of the moment. And I can see that. But isn’t that why cops go through training, to reduce the chance of an oops in the heat of the moment.
As I read the complaint, Rialmo agrees with me, in a way. He feels guilt. He knows that the danger had passed before he drew his gun.
But he also has the delusion that a $10 million payday will make the guilt go away. I got news for you, Rialmo, the estate of Antonio LeGrier doesn’t have remotely this much money—unless you think that somehow the city’s going to pay a big settlement to his estate and then you, somehow, can snatch it away.