The family of a 19-year-old Black man gunned down by a Chicago police officer has added a hate crime claim to their wrongful death lawsuit after the accused officer was found to have engaged in a series of racist text messages prior to the deadly shooting.
According to the Chicago Tribune, an attorney for the father of Quintonio LeGrier amended his lawsuit to add a claim that Officer Robert Rialmo’s lethal actions ultimately amounted to a hate crime.
Rialmo shot and killed LeGrier on Dec. 26 after the Chicago teen made three harrowing phone calls to 911 begging police to come to his father’s home on West Erie Street. Despite his pleas insisting his life was in danger, 911 operators terminated two of the three calls made by LeGrier that morning. Police only arrived at the home after LeGrier’s father, Antonio, called police to say he was actually the one in danger, NBC Chicago reports.
“My son’s attempting to break inside my bedroom door,” he told emergency dispatchers. “He’s got a baseball bat in his hand.”
According to the publication, responding officer Rialmo shot LeGrier six times along with a neighbor, Bettie Jones, who was caught in the crossfire. Antonio LeGrier later filed a wrongful death suit against the officer, saying his son was never a threat.
Newly released copies of text messages between Rialmo and a longtime friend show the duo using racial slurs, including with the n-word, to refer to African-Americans 10 days before the shooting.
“Worked with scotty last night,” Rialmo wrote to his friend on Dec. 16, according to records obtained by the Chicago Tribune. “…it was fun.”
“U get any niggas,” the friend asked.
“Sort of lol…long story,” Rialmo said.
The amended suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses the Chicago cop of opening fire on LeGrier because he was Black and alleges that Rialmo “thought it was humorous to characterize people as ‘niggas.’ ” Per the Chicago Tribune, the suit also seeks damages under Illinois’ hate crime act, which allows legal representation for the LeGrier family to recoup legal fees and court costs on top of any jury award they might receive.
“This is a nightmare for the public,” said Basileios Foutris, an attorney for LeGrier’s family. “He was assigned to patrol an African-American neighborhood while he was engaging in such offensive and racist communications.”
Rialmo’s attorney, Joel Brodsky, vehemently denied all allegations of racism, calling them “stupid and irresponsible.” Brodsky also asserted that his client simply responded to his friend’s use of the racial slur but never used one himself.
“This friend is a non-police officer who apparently likes to use what you might call ‘hip-hop language,’ ” Brodsky explained. “If a guy you’ve known for 15 or 20 years sends you a private message like that, how are you supposed to respond? Are you supposed to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you used that term — never contact me again?’ ”
Earlier this year, Rialmo filed a countersuit against the LeGrier family claiming the teen’s actions prompted the shooting, causing the officer to suffer “extreme emotional trauma,” Atlanta Black Star reports. The officer said he feared for his life as LeGrier swung a baseball bat near his head at close range. According to the publication, Rialmo’s suit seeks over $10 million in damages.
“This counterclaim is an attempt to deflect from what the officer did,” Foutris said. “He shot a teen four times in the back.”