The Watch

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COPA Cover-up?

FOP Attorneys Argue City’s Own Expert Ruled Rialmo Shooting Justified

Attorneys for the FOP alleged Monday that the city’s police oversight agency, COPA, deliberately hid the opinion of their own expert exonerating a police officer for a fatal police shooting.  

FOP attorneys for Robert Rialmo—who is faced with losing his job after COPA ruled that his shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and an innocent bystander, Bettie Jones, was not justified—argued that a use-of-force expert hired by a law firm working for COPA stated in an email that the expert believed the shooting was justified. 

“This is a massive, massive issue that cannot be ignored,” FOP attorney Tim Grace said. “COPA fought tooth and nail to hide the [email].” 

LeGrier, who had a history of mental health issues, was in a highly agitated state in December 2015 when he charged at Rialmo with a baseball bat over his head. Rialmo fired approximately seven shots, killing LeGrier and accidentally killing Bettie Jones, who was standing behind LeGrier.

The opinion of the expert hired by the city, Lt. Robert Harrington of the Boston Police Department, was never released by COPA. Indeed, Harrington’s role and the existence of the Harrington email only became known after Grace filed an FOIA at the behest of the FOP demanding to know of any third-party investigators.

Even more suspicious, the FOP has alleged, the existence of Harrington and any conclusions he may have drawn about the shooting was not made known by COPA to either Superintendent Eddie Johnson or Cook County prosecutors as prosecutors reviewed the case for possible criminal charges. 

In the police board hearing Monday, Grace said the expert testifying on behalf of Rialmo will argue that Harrington certainly meant that he believed Rialmo’s shooting was justified. 

Grace’s statements come in the wake of several other high-profile cases in which the city’s civilian oversight agencies have been accused of wrongdoing. Evidence has emerged that COPA’s predecessor, IPRA, may have illegally released confidential information about a witness in the Jason Van Dyke case to anti-police activists and journalists, but may have kept the information hidden from detectives investigating the shooting. 

Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans was charged with 12 felony counts based upon an IPRA investigation for a 2015 arrest of a gang member. Evans’s criminal trial largely turned against IPRA as box after box of evidence was brought forth in the trial painting a dire picture of IPRA’s investigative tactics. Evans’s attorneys suggested the agency unfairly targeted him, ran a biased investigation, and intentionally released confidential documents to anti-police journalists as a means of influencing public opinion. Evans was acquitted of all charges and has filed a massive lawsuit against the city based on these allegations. 

Indeed, the FOP has frequently alleged media bias against the police. While much of the print media, particularly Dan Hinkel of the Chicago Tribune, has painstakingly investigated every accusation against Rialmo, these journalists have failed to uncover the existence of the Harrington email. 

The police board case against Rialmo continues this week.