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Judge blocks Chicago's bid for separate trials in fatal police shootings

Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- A Cook County judge has denied a bid by lawyers for the city of Chicago to hold separate civil trials over the 2015 police shooting of a bat-carrying teen and an innocent bystander.

The lawsuits stemming from Officer Robert Rialmo's shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones, 55, appear headed to trial June 6 after the judge also declined the city's request to delay the proceedings to allow more time to prepare.

In a motion filed early this month, private lawyers for the city sought to sever the cases. They argued in part that jurors' sympathy for the bystander -- a churchgoing grandmother who opened the door for officers before she was accidentally shot -- could influence their assessment of Rialmo's decision to shoot at the teen who approached officers with a bat in his hands.

"Denying severance would severely prejudice the city in the LeGrier case because their sympathy for the Jones plaintiffs is likely to affect the jury's analysis of whether Rialmo's use of force against Quintonio was justified," the city's motion said. "As such, the cases should be severed for trial so that each case can be decided on its merits, as opposed to on sympathy grounds."

The city's lawyers in court Wednesday asked that the judge order that the trial for LeGrier's shooting go forward first. The result of that trial might have changed the dynamic of a subsequent trial over Jones' killing or played into any pretrial settlement talks.

Rialmo also has filed an unusual lawsuit against the city alleging in part that he was poorly trained. The city's motion also sought to have that litigation severed from the LeGrier case.

In court Wednesday, one of the city's lawyers, Brian Gainer, spoke to a need to delay the trial, saying a litany of documents still needed to be produced, among other tasks.

"There's just a lot to do," he said.

Attorneys for the Jones and LeGrier families objected to the motion, saying they are ready to go to trial and the cases should stay joined.

"What this is is one shooting incident involving one officer and two victims," said Larry Rogers Jr., a lawyer for the Jones family.

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