CHICAGO (CN) – A Cook County jury on Wednesday found Chicago and one of its police officers liable for wrongful death in his fatal shooting of a teen outside his father’s home the day after Christmas.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for more than three hours before reaching their verdict.
Earlier in the day, closing arguments centered on whether Robert Rialmo was justified in shooting and killing Quintonio Legrier, 19, a college student who was home during winter break.
The jury found Chicago and Rialmo liable for Legrier’s wrongful death and awarded his family $1 million. They also awarded $50,000 on a survival claim.
Cook County Judge Rena Van Tine, however, struck the damages after asking the jury whether they believed Rialmo thought lethal force was necessary in the situation and they answered yes.
However, jurors found in the city’s favor on the Legrier family’s false arrest claim and ruled for Rialmo on his counterclaim for emotional distress, but did not award him any damages.
They also found Legrier’s estate not liable for Rialmo’s counterclaim of battery.
Outside the courtroom, jury foreman Dave Fitzsimmons said he and his fellow jurors “heard a lot of conflicting testimony” and ultimately relied on the physical evidence presented by the Legrier family.
“I don’t believe Rialmo is a bad person,” he said about the officer. “I just think he made a bad decision in the moment.”
Fitzsimmons added that the jury thought the police department had the resources to cover any treatment Rialmo needed after the incident.
The teen’s parents, Antonio Legrier and Janet Cooksey, sued Chicago and Rialmo just days after the incident that took place in the early morning hours after Christmas 2015. They sought $25 million in damages for claims of wrongful death, survival and false arrest.
At the time of the incident, Legrier was allegedly on a rampage at his father’s home. Antonio barricaded himself in his bedroom with a 2×4 and called the police for help.
Rialmo and his partner responded to the domestic disturbance call. He says he shot Legrier after the teen rushed at him wielding a metal baseball bat in the apartment building on Chicago’s west side.
A downstairs neighbor who answered the door, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, was caught in the gunfire and killed by a single shot to her chest.
Legrier’s father says he was then taken to the police station and kept there against his will, which the city denies.
In Judge Van Tine’s courtroom on Wednesday, the plaintiffs’ attorney Basileios Foutris focused on how far away Legrier was from Rialmo when the shooting happened, repeating over and over that “distance matters.”
“You need to know where everyone was at the time of the shooting,” Foutris said, to know if there was any threat to the officer.
“Quintonio was inside the building with his back turned,” he argued. “He was not a threat, period.”
Foutris focused on four shots to the back of Legrier’s body, while defense attorneys pointed out that there was one shot in the front. They claimed this backed up Rialmo’s story that the teen turned before falling on his front in the apartment vestibule.
Joel Brodsky, Rialmo’s attorney, said it was “utterly ridiculous” to say the officer would shoot anyone in the back from as far away as the Legrier family argues he was, reminding the jury that the officer said the teen charged at him with the metal bat.
“If you charge at a police officer with a baseball bat at 4:30 in the morning, you’re going to get shot,” Brodsky said. “He wasn’t coming down the stairs to ask the officers to play softball.”
An attorney representing the city, Brian Gainer, talked about Legrier’s mindset at the time of the incident.
“He was out of control, angry and violent,” Gainer said, after the teen had allegedly fought with both of his parents earlier that day.
Legrier lived with foster parents from age 5 to 18, and the defense team drew attention to the lack of a long-term relationship between the plaintiffs and their son.
According to testimony, Legrier was left alone at his father’s apartment all day on Christmas after his mother dropped him off there at 7 a.m.
Gainer played Antonio’s 911 call from that day, the father breathless and telling the responder his son was trying to break into his door.
He then brought up the teen’s words heard through his father’s door: “No one’s gonna push me around anymore.”
Rialmo maintained during his testimony last week that he had to shoot Legrier to protect himself from the bat, a prop used often in the courtroom by attorneys on both sides.
The officer claimed Legrier came “rumbling” down the stairs of his second floor apartment.
“I had no idea what was coming down the stairs,” he said, adding that he shot Legrier when he cocked back for another swing, not listening to the officer telling him to drop the bat.
Antonio’s story contradicted Rialmo’s, according to a Chicago Sun Times report. The father claimed in court that he was merely sleeping before the incident, using the stick so that no one would disturb him, and called the police because he heard a knocking on his bedroom door.
Legrier’s father also said he did not tell the officer that he “did what [he] needed to do” after coming down the stairs and seeing his son was shot, as Rialmo testified.
Rialmo had a crossclaim against the city alleging that he was not properly trained to handle the situation presented to him that night, but it was dropped just days ago.
In his counterclaim against Legrier’s estate alleging battery and emotional distress, Rialmo said he has suffered because of what happened to Jones, saying in court that “she was never meant to be hurt.”
Chicago avoided going to trial over Jones’ death, settling a lawsuit filed by her daughters for a reported $16 million.