All too often in the media today we are seeing stories of people being killed in officer-involved shootings. The facts in every case vary and there are certainly situations where deadly force is necessary to protect the officer or others. Sometime, however, the family of the deceased believes the officer was mistaken in pulling the trigger and files a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages for the loss of their loved one.
Such is the case in Chicago. In late December 2015, Officer Robert Rialmo and his partner responded to an early morning call from Antonio LeGrier. His son, the now deceased Quintonio LeGrier, 19, was acting agitated and carrying around a metal baseball bat. His mother would later tell reporters that her son was suffering from mental health problems. When officers arrived, Quintonio rushed down the stairs with the bat and police opened fire. In addition to Quintonio, Bettie Jones, a downstairs neighbor was also killed. An innocent bystander in the confrontation, Jones had received a call from Antonio that police were coming and to let them in the shared front door. She was shot by accident when Rialmo fired at Quintonio. The shooting is now under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority. Shortly after the death of his son, Antonio filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Chicago seeking $100,000 in damages. In the lawsuit LeGrier alleges, "the officer shot his son without justification, used excessive force and failed to provide medical care as he lay bleeding on the floor." In addition, he is suing for false arrest.
Wrongful death is a cause of action brought by the decedent's family against a person or entity who intentionally or negligently causes the death of the decedent. Every state has a wrongful death statute, though the statutes vary from state to state. In order to succeed in a case for wrongful death, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was liable for his or her loved one's death. The plaintiff can be awarded damages for medical costs, funeral costs, loss of the decedent's income, and loss of consortium (companionship), among other things.
In an unusual twist of events, Rialmo is now countersuing LeGrier's estate. In his countersuit, the Chicago police officer claims the LeGrier caused him "extreme emotional trauma." His complaint alleges causes of action for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The counterclaim presents a different account of events of that morning. It states that Quintonio LeGrier swung at the officer, the officer shouted for him to drop the bat, and that Rialmo shot LeGrier in fear for his life.
The police are supposed to protect and serve the public. Deadly force should be the last resort an officer uses when confronted by a suspect. Some advocates claim that if more non-lethal methods of subduing suspects were used more often by police departments, perhaps we would see less officer-involved shooting stories in the national media and people like Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones would not lose their lives.