Fault Lines
20 August 2017

Robert Rialmo’s Gambit: Chutzpah or Desperation?

Feb. 9, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield wrote (with begrudging admiration) of the “chutzpah” of Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo’s lawsuit against the estate of Quintonio LeGrier.  As you may recall, Rialmo was the officer who was called to the home of LeGrier on a disturbance call and ultimately ended up shooting and killing LeGrier, as well as neighbor (and innocent bystander) Bettie Jones.  Antonio LeGrier, Quintonio’s father, filed a wrongful death suit against Rialmo and the Chicago Police Department.

Rialmo’s suit is a countersuit to LeGrier’s.  In it, he claims that Quintonio LeGrier caused the situation that ultimately led to him having to fire his weapon killing LeGrier and, inadvertently, Bettie Jones.  According to Rialmo, these actions have caused him “extreme emotional trauma.”

At first glance, the idea of a police officer suing the family estate of an individual he or she killed is enough to make even the most aggressive ambulance chasing attorney embarrassed.  How does a plaintiff argue with a straight face that they were the ones harmed when the other party ended up dead at the plaintiff’s hands?  Surely, something so audacious is destined to win a place in the Hall of Fame of Frivolous Lawsuits.  Right?

As Greenfield points out, however, there is most definitely method to the madness of Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky.

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.

Despite the fact that the Rialmo suit is utterly frivolous and morally bankrupt, it is a brilliant move by Brodsky.

 “Brilliant” is high praise coming from Greenfield and it is not a term he throws around lightly.

brilliant

Okay, well, maybe a little lightly.

It is apparent from Greenfield’s writing on the LeGrier/Jones shooting that he feels the shooting was unjustified.

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?

Greenfield is able to detach his personal feelings about the merits of the case (“utterly frivolous and morally bankrupt”) and acknowledge the move as “brilliant.”

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.

Of course, Greenfield is correct in his assessment.  By filing the countersuit, Brodsky was able to present his own opening argument to the general public, and quite frankly, it was a good one.  He was able to give a play-by-play in detail of how LeGrier was swinging a bat at Rialmo’s head “close enough for Officer Rialmo to feel the movement of air as the bat passed in front of his face.”  Unlike other controversial police shootings, the officer himself (via his attorney) is giving an explanation to the public.  More unusual, this account is being given before any other government entity has spoken about the righteousness of the shoot.

Greenfield notes:

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.

Maybe. Maybe not.  While Greenfield is right in his assessment that the move is a bold one, he may be mistaking “chutzpah” with desperation.  As noted in the Chicago Tribune article of February 6th:

Rialmo was shifted to 30 days of mandatory paid administrative duties under a policy implemented after the LeGrier shooting. Officers who are involved in shootings are not relieved of their police powers or accused of any wrongdoing by the department.

Last week, interim police Superintendent John Escalante told the Tribune that Rialmo’s administrative duties were extended indefinitely.

Given the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s latest disaster in public relations following the much belated release of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by the police, the LeGrier shooting couldn’t have come at a worse time.  It does not take much effort to read between the lines when Superintendent Escalante is taking time out of his busy schedule to let the Tribune know that Rialmo’s in-house suspension period of administrative duties has been extended indefinitely.  Some might make the deduction that the Chicago PD is about to drop Rialmo in the grease to demonstrate their newfound transparency.

That appears to be the deduction that Brodsky is making, because it would be hard to imagine the Chicago Police Department signing off on the countersuit. Many departments have extremely strict policies regarding what officers can and cannot say to the media in the wake of a police involved shooting or other alleged bad action.  Those rules are designed to protect the reputation of the Department much more than the officer.

Brodsky’s filings with such specific allegations potentially sidestepped any statements that the Chicago PD may have prohibited Rialmo from making, because they came in the form of legal pleadings. Greenfield’s appreciation for the maneuver was earned.  It may also have been a subtle middle-finger to the Chicago PD.

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.

A quick glance at Brodsky’s website and Facebook business page illustrates that he’s not a lawyer who is shy about trying his cases in the media.  It also illustrates that he’s primarily a criminal defense attorney.  A civil countersuit is generally outside the comfort zone of most lawyers who practice strictly criminal defense.

Unless, of course, that civil lawsuit is part of your criminal defense.

It is hard to imagine that the Chicago PD was pleased to learn that one of their officers had hired such a vocal attorney as Brodsky. Surely, a Union lawyer would have played ball with them a little better.  Rialmo hiring him was a bold move in the first place.  It appear that both Rialmo and Brodsky are keenly aware of a storm brewing on the horizon.

The countersuit move was certainly a bold one and one that took chutzpah, but I call bullshit on respectfully disagree with Scott Greenfield that it will now become a part of the cop playbook going forward. Most police officers involved in shootings receive the backing of their department. When that occurs, there is no need for a countersuit to “advance your narrative.”

Normally, a police officer involved in a questionable shooting doesn’t need a lawsuit to advance his narrative. They’ve got a grand jury for that.  Brodsky and Rialmo aren’t worried about the court of public opinion.  They’re worried about a court of law.

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  • Eva
    9 February 2016 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    The public may not be in agreement with the narrative they are being served up with this lawsuit, so it could backfire and it could tense up relations with the police dept. he works with unless there was some kind of agreement prior to all this.

    Personally I feel uncomfortable with the cops doing such things in the event of some kind of terrible accident. I feel as part of their duties as an officer of the law they took on the responsibility of such potentially dangerous possibilities as a matter of course. I also feel if an officer of the law feels like he cannot handle his position he should not be employed as such.