CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago police officer testified before a Cook County jury Wednesday about his fatal shooting of a teenager and his neighbor, saying the incident has left him scarred but that he responded in the way he was trained to.
Officer Robert Rialmo shot and killed 19-year-old Quintonio Legrier on Chicago’s west side in the early morning hours after Christmas in 2015 while responding to a domestic disturbance call with his partner.
The Northern Illinois University student was home on a break, and had been struggling with mental illness. His father, Antonio, had called the police to come to their apartment.
Legrier’s downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, 55, was accidentally caught in Rialmo’s gunfire and died of the single shot that hit her chest.
The officer will not be criminally charged, although Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability found the shooting to be unjustified.
Rialmo described the incident in detail in Cook County Judge Rena Van Tine’s courtroom Tuesday and Wednesday.
More comfortable on the stand than the previous day, when he gave short and quiet answers to Legrier family attorney Basileios Foutris, Rialmo said Wednesday that he had no idea what was going on in the house. The scene was described as the younger Legrier being on a rampage, his father barricaded in his bedroom in fear.
Rialmo claimed he told Jones, who Legrier’s father had called and asked to answer the door, to go back into her apartment when he said he heard “a rumbling coming down the stairs” almost immediately.
“I had no idea what was coming down the stairs,” he said.
According to Rialmo, Legrier rushed through the door wielding a metal baseball bat, and the officer yelled at him to drop it.
He claims the teen came towards him onto the porch swinging the bat, barely missed and pulled up for another swing when he took his first shot, backing down the stairs.
Legrier grabbed his chest and spun around while dropping the bat, landing face down in the building vestibule, Rialmo said. He then saw Jones lying in the vestibule with Legrier as he walked back to the building.
All of this happened in a minute or so, the officer estimated.
Legrier’s father then came down the stairs with his hands up, according to Rialmo, who yelled, “Dad, what the fuck?”
“You did what you had to do,” Rialmo claimed Legrier’s father repeatedly said.
Rialmo and the city’s defense team maintain the situation was a matter of life or death, and he merely responded in the way he was trained to, with lethal force.
“If I had turned and run toward the street he’d be on my ass with that bat,” Rialmo responded when asked why he didn’t run.
Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, had the officer demonstrate what happened in front of the jury, swinging the same bat that Legrier had, a prop used by attorneys on both sides throughout the trial so far.
Foutris, the Legrier family attorney, focused on alleged contradictions in Rialmo’s recollection of the details of the incident, such as how far he was from Quintonio, his police reports and what he did before and after the incident, bringing up text messages involving making plans with a friend the next night.
Foutris also questioned why Rialmo could not use a non-lethal weapon to stop Legrier, such as pepper spray, a baton or a stun gun.
In a tense exchange with an attorney representing the city on Tuesday, forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek, hired by Legrier’s family, detailed why she thinks Rialmo’s account isn’t accurate.
Melinek described the path of each bullet through Legrier’s body, saying that the information she had from the autopsy and scene reports showed that Rialmo was below him.
She also said Legrier’s body could not have been positioned the way Rialmo claimed, facing him, because of a bullet that went through the back of Quintonio’s arm. It entered through the back of his elbow and out his bicep, she said, which couldn’t have happened if he was still holding the bat above his head.
Melinek said she did not know the order in which the bullets were shot, only where they went once they were fired.
She found one bullet had gone through the front of his chest, and the rest through the back of his body.
“He can’t be charging toward him,” she said in court, referring to Legrier. “The shots are in the back.”
One of those shots, Melinek claimed, partially severed his spinal cord, which would have paralyzed him and not allowed him to take any further steps. This, she said, meant to her that Legrier would not have had time to get from the porch and back into the vestibule to fall over.
Brodsky, Rialmo’s attorney, showed photos of the building depicting a small porch and the tight vestibule inside, with two doors leading directly to Jones’ apartment and the stairs to the Legriers’ apartment.
Rialmo has also filed a counterclaim against Legrier’s estate, blaming the teen for the emotional distress he says he is under after killing the innocent Jones.
“You want this jury to give you money for killing Antonio’s son?” Foutris yelled at him on the stand Tuesday.
The officer responded the next day, saying Jones “was never meant to be hurt,” and he was referring to her the night of the incident when he told another officer he “fucked up.”
“When you get a moment to yourself it just plays over in your head again, and it’s not a pretty sight,” Rialmo added.
He also has a crossclaim against the city, passing the blame again due to allegedly poor training.
The city put an end to the Jones family’s lawsuit with a $16 million settlement. The settlement and their case cannot be discussed in court.
The Legrier trial is expected to last through next week.