LeGrier’s Killer Tries Tactical Chutzpah*

Off the top, one thing is certain: The factual allegations in support of Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo’s claim are completely incredible:

After Rialmo stepped into the front door of the building, LeGrier came “barging” out the front door of the second-floor apartment, holding a baseball bat in his right hand, according to the lawsuit. Rialmo had been standing in the front doorway, and when LeGrier got downstairs, he “took a full swing” at the officer, “missing (his head) by inches, but getting close enough for Officer Rialmo to feel the movement of air as the bat passed in front of his face.”

Rialmo, who was still shouting for LeGrier to drop the bat and had his gun in his holster, then backed down to the bottom of the steps.

LeGrier stood “with the baseball bat cocked back over his right shoulder with a two-handed grip, approximately 3 feet above Officer Rialmo and approximately 3 to 4 feet from where Officer Rialmo was standing on the bottom step of the front porch to the building. Officer Rialmo feared that LeGrier would strike him in the head with the baseball bat so hard that it would kill him,” the lawsuit states.

Officer Rialmo drew his handgun from its holster, and starting to fire from holster level, fired eight rounds at LeGrier from his 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun, which holds 18 rounds, in approximately two and a half seconds,” the lawsuit states.

There is a host of problems with this killing, including the fact that LeGrier called 911 three times, the dispatcher having hung up on him, to summon police because of a fight. It makes no sense that the person who called the police would then viciously attack the officer who arrives in response to his call in the absence of some psychotic break. Does mental illness warrant the death penalty?

Then there’s the “shoot first” issue, that killing is the first resort rather than last. From de-escalation to less-than-lethal methods, there are options. Instead, LeGrier and Jones lay dead with holes from Rialmo’s gun in their bodies.  More black bodies dead at the hand of a white police officer. A relative rookie, no less.

By this counterclaim, Rialmo answers the outrage by his own narrative. The problem is that give Rialmo’s claims, LeGrier swung a baseball bat at his head, close enough that he “felt the movement of air” as the bat missed him, that his reaction would have been to keep his gun holstered and back off a few steps is facially incredible. No cop has ever shown such remarkable restraint.

And more to the point, there was no need for such restraint. At absolute minimum, he would draw his weapon at the approaching bat-wielder and order him to stop. The most likely course was to invoke the First Rule of Policing. Had this been true, Rialmo would have been justified in shooting.  In other words, Rialmo’s own allegations, his counter-narrative, is so ridiculous in its effort to make him the victim as to be unworthy of belief.

Lawyers for LeGrier and Jones say the evidence shows that Rialmo was 20-30 feet away when he opened fire, where Rialmo’s bullet passed through LeGrier and killed Bettie Jones behind him.

So why, then, has Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo sued 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier’s estate for the “extreme emotional trauma” the cop suffered by being forced to kill LeGrier?

Antonio LeGrier’s attorney, Basileios Foutris, was incredulous at what he called the officer’s “temerity” in suing the college student’s grieving family. Foutris said the lawsuit was “outlandish.”

“After this coward shot a teenager in the back … he has the temerity to sue him? That’s a new low for the Chicago Police Department,” Foutris said.

Temerity is a good word choice. Chutzpah is even better.  But Joel Brodsky, Rialmo’s lawyer, in pitching the suit, offers some insight:

“He’s got this extra added burden (with) the death of Jones,” Brodsky said. “He’s going through what I would call the normal grieving process for someone who is forced to take a human life.”

Brodsky said there’s been a presumption that his client did something wrong when he opened fire on LeGrier and the lawsuit was an opportunity to get Rialmo’s side of the story out there, because it hasn’t been disclosed officially.

Rialmo will be vilified, his name forever tied to being a killer cop, the cop who killed LeGrier, but even worse, Bettie Jones, who was a pristine victim.  He’s got nothing to lose.  Putting aside that a police officer can’t sue for purported trauma suffered in the performance of his duty, this isn’t about money at all.

One tactical maxim is that the best defense is a good offense, and Brodsky is taking that to heart as he goes on the offensive.  In defense of Rialmo, Brodsky needed to get an alternative narrative out there, one that would not only absolve his officer of the moral taint of being another Chicago cop killer, but create an alternative villain at whom public condemnation could be directed.

On Saturday, Brodsky said that relatives of those fatally shot by the police, such as the LeGrier family, are looking for ways to get paid after the city settled the Laquan McDonald shooting case last year for $5 million.

“Ever since the McDonald payoff, people are treating officer-involved confrontations like a lottery ticket and they’re waiting to cash it in,” Brodsky said.

Despite the fact that the Rialmo suit is utterly frivolous and morally bankrupt, it is a brilliant legal move by Brodsky.  It’s nearly impossible to change a narrative once established in the media, but this one outrageous move has shifted headlines from Rialmo as killer cop to Rialmo as sensitive police officer who was forced to shoot to save his life, and Quintonio LeGrier’s father into gold digger, playing the death lottery instead of mourning his dead son. It plays to every prejudice there is in favor of police and against a dead black kid.

But the lie is so outrageous, so absurd, that it can’t possibly be believed?  Did Brodsky overplay his hand? Would the Rialmo counter-narrative have done better to not try to turn the cop into a traumatized victim who showed the most restraint ever by a Chicago police officer?

Don’t be naïve. People will believe what confirms their prejudice, no matter how ridiculous. And if Rialmo is to have any hope of a future as anything other than Bettie Jones’ killer, he had to go big.  The bigger the lie, the more likely it will have an impact. That the lawsuit has no chance is irrelevant.

Such a lawsuit by an officer is extraordinarily unusual, said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor and current defense attorney who is not connected to the case.

He questioned whether a judge would give it any merit and said it appeared intended to intimidate LeGrier’s family. He said he had never heard of an officer blaming his shooting victim for causing trauma.

“That is a known part of the job,” Turner said of policing’s emotional toll.

But then, far better to be known for bringing a silly lawsuit than being a killer. Now that Brodsky has planted the seeds in the fertile soil of prejudice, Rialmo’s allegations will have a place in the narrative of how LeGrier and Jones were killed. From this point forward, there will at least be a seed of doubt that Robert Rialmo was just another Chicago killer cop. That’s all Brodsky could hope to accomplish, and he’s succeeded.

*Chutzpah: Yiddish for shameless audacity; nerve, as in “what nerve!” The boldness of Brodsky’s going for the big lie took nerves of steel, making chutzpah a particularly apt description of his tactic.  And its success suggests it will now become a part of the cop playbook going forward.

12 comments on “LeGrier’s Killer Tries Tactical Chutzpah*

  1. OEH

    Far be it from me to accuse the Chicago police of killing to eliminate a witness, but I can’t help but wonder what story we would have if Jones had survived.

    1. SHG Post author

      Facile speculation does nothing to inform. It’s pretty cynical to suggest that Jones was murdered to eliminate a witness to LeGrier’s killing, and without any factual basis to support such a suggestion, you’re in tin foil hat territory.

      1. OEH

        That’s true. I do believe Rialmo shot Jones by accident, but I am still concerned how little incentive he would have to see that she survived. Not to mention LeGrier himself.

  2. Jim Tyre

    Does chutzpah really need an asterisk and a definition? Perhaps it did when Kozinski and Volokh published their wonderful scholarly piece “Lawsuit, Schmawsuit” in the Yale Law Journal in 1993 (freely available on the net for those who care to search). But today?

  3. Patrick Maupin

    The (probably correctly) presumed utility of this tactic is yet another ill that is aided and abetted by the current system where cops almost never pay damages for their own mistakes.

    In a normal civil suit, this sort of chutzpah would probably bite the defendant in the ass, once the jurors realized that everything they thought they knew about the situation (and swore to the judge they’d ignore) was a web of lies promulgated by the smirking guy and the lawyer with the great hair.

  4. Patrick Maupin

    > Brodsky said … the lawsuit was an opportunity to get Rialmo’s side of the story out there…

    If Brodsky worked too hard to get this side of the story out, Foutris might be able to tempt the Illinois courts to follow the same line of reasoning that led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule, in Bochetto v. Gibson, that this sort of chutzpah isn’t always protected speech.

    1. SHG Post author

      I suspect Foutris will find some gems here for both Rialmo and Brodsky. Just as we remind the defendant of the efficacy of his right to remain silent, that too goes for the cop and his lawyer who ignore it as well. And Bill Foutris has the chops to use it well.

  5. Pingback: Robert Rialmo’s Gambit: Chutzpah or Desperation?

  6. Frank

    The classic definition of chutzpah is murdering your parents then begging for mercy from the court because you’re an orphan.

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