Chicago police are investigating allegations that the officer who fatally shot two people in an on-duty incident in 2015 got into an early morning bar fight last month, a department spokesman confirmed Friday.
Officer Robert Rialmo is alleged to have hit two men in the face with a closed fist about 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 17 at Moretti’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, a sprawling restaurant and bar in the Edison Park neighborhood on the far Northwest Side, according to department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi as well as a police report. One victim suffered bruises, the report said.
By the time police arrived, Rialmo was gone, Guglielmi said.
Days after the alleged incident, department officials stripped Rialmo of his police powers, Guglielmi said. He had already been on paid desk duty because of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, who was clutching a baseball bat, and Bettie Jones, 55, an innocent bystander, the day after Christmas in 2015.
Rialmo had not been arrested or charged in the alleged bar fight as of Friday evening.
Meanwhile, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police misconduct allegations, is looking into whether Rialmo might have violated department policy, according to agency records.
The disciplinary agency recently presented evidence in the case to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office before referring the matter to the Police Department, which began an investigation less than a week ago, Guglielmi said.
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, declined to comment.
Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, called the off-duty incident a “shoving match,” saying two men tried to take Rialmo’s coat at closing time.
A “fair investigation” should result in no charges, Brodsky said in a written statement.
“Nobody requested medical attention, there were no injuries, the men refused to cooperate with the police, and no charges were brought,” Brodsky wrote. “Without complaining witnesses, there is no reason for any criminal investigation.”
Rialmo, a five-year department veteran, could not be reached for comment.
The alleged bar fight came five days before disciplinary authorities ruled that Rialmo unjustifiably shot LeGrier and Jones while responding to a domestic disturbance on the West Side. After LeGrier came at officers with an aluminum baseball bat in his hand, Rialmo shot the teen and accidentally hit Jones, a neighbor standing nearby.
But COPA cast doubt on Rialmo’s account of those events and determined that the evidence indicated that LeGrier did not swing the bat at the officer, as Rialmo said. Investigators also concluded that LeGrier likely was further away from from Rialmo when he opened fire than the officer has said.
COPA has recommended that Rialmo be fired for the shooting, and Superintendent Eddie Johnson has about three months to decide what, if any, discipline he might seek from the Chicago Police Board.
Brodsky has said the facts support his client’s statements that he fired in fear for his life because LeGrier could have hit him with the bat, whether or not he swung it. The COPA ruling was politically motivated, Brodsky contends.
Rialmo’s union, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, has also decried the ruling and instructed its attorneys to explore a legal challenge, according to a statement.
Union President Kevin Graham told the Tribune on Friday he does not believe COPA is capable of fairly investigating officers and that it is using the alleged bar fight to support its recommended firing of Rialmo for the fatal shooting.
“This is a move to put pressure on the Police Department and specifically Superintendent Eddie Johnson to have an unfavorable ruling on Officer Rialmo” for the shooting, Graham said.
COPA officials could not be reached for comment.
The alleged bar fight adds another unexpected twist to the aftermath of a shooting that has been marked by unusual litigation and embarrassing blunders by the city.
The shooting attracted wide notice in part because it was the first fatal police shooting after the court-ordered release of video of a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, shooting African-American teen Laquan McDonald 16 times. The video’s release in November 2015 sparked calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, and black Chicagoans aired volumes of complaints about their treatment by police. Efforts to overhaul the department continue more than two years later.
About 4:30 a.m. on the day after Christmas 2015, Rialmo and his partner responded to 911 calls about a domestic disturbance at the apartment in the 4700 block of West Erie Street, where LeGrier was staying with his father. LeGrier had behaved strangely as a student at Northern Illinois University and had altercations with other students and run-ins with police, records show. LeGrier’s apparent mental health problems have been a key issue in the litigation that followed his death.
Jones, who lived downstairs, answered the door and pointed police to the second floor. LeGrier then came down the stairs with a bat, according to an analysis released in February by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which declined to bring criminal charges against Rialmo. The officers started to move backward onto the front landing as LeGrier came at them with the bat, prosecutors wrote. As Rialmo backed down the stairs, he fired eight times, hitting LeGrier six times, according to prosecutors. Jones, who stood behind the teen during the incident, was shot once in the chest, prosecutors wrote.
Brodsky has said his client was justified in firing in self-defense, but COPA investigators voiced doubts about Rialmo’s sometimes conflicting accounts. COPA found that no one corroborated the officer’s contention that LeGrier swung the bat, while investigators concluded that the evidence suggested that Rialmo was several feet further from the teen when he opened fire than the officer had said he was.
Numerous lawsuits are pending. The survivors of both LeGrier and Jones sued Rialmo and the city. Rialmo took the unusual step of suing the city, alleging in part that he was inadequately trained. Rialmo is also suing LeGrier’s estate, blaming him for the shooting and contending it emotionally traumatized the officer.
Then, three weeks ago, the city’s lawyers filed a lawsuit that sought to shift blame and some financial liability for Jones’ death from the city onto LeGrier’s estate. The Tribune reported on the lawsuit a few hours after it was filed. The city’s lawyers quickly dropped the suit, and Emanuel apologized, saying he did not know of the litigation beforehand but found it “callous.”
Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2018, “Chicago cop who fatally shot 2 in 2015 under investigation for bar fight”, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-cop-robert-rialmo-bar-fight-20180104-story.html