Superintendent Eddie Johnson made the right decision for the right reason

Superintendent Eddie Johnson made the right decision for the right reason
Superintendent Eddie Johnson at an award ceremony.

 

Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo is facing termination from the Chicago Police Department over a December 17, 2015 shooting where two people were killed.

The Cook County State's Attorney declined to charge Rialmo with a crime. The Department of Justice declined to press charges. The Independent Police Review Authority, which at the time investigated use of force incidents by Chicago Police officers, deemed the shooting justified. The Superintendent of Police ruled the shooting justified.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which was formed after the shooting occurred and fully investigated, reopened and reinvestigated the case.

COPA gave a spurious reason for reopening the case, a lawsuit. The allegations against Rialmo are based on allegations in a lawsuit filed in Federal Court by family members of the deceased. Remember, Rialmo was cleared. COPA used allegations from a lawsuit to reopen a closed investigation. Something stinks here.

COPA recommended Rialmo be fired for violations of policy, procedures, and rules, overturning the previous investigations and decisions.

Unfortunately, they did not provide Superintendent of Police, Eddie Johnson with the complete investigative files justifying their recommendation. They expected Johnson to make his decision with little information or reasoning.

COPA, which was designed and promised to be transparent was opaque when it came to sharing information with Johnson.

Johnson demanded the case files. COPA and Johnson went back and forth over which information the Superintendent was supposedly entitled to. COPA's attitude was, "We decide, you accept. Information? You don't need no stinking information."

Eddie Johnson, along with department legal counsel, overruled COPA. Johnson determined that COPA's investigation and recommendation did not meet legal standards to fire officer Rialmo.

Now the case will go to the Police Board with COPA's recommendation intact. They will decide Robert Rialmo's fate.

Superintendent Eddie Johnson made the right call in overruling COPA's recommendation. If COPA will not cooperate with the department, handing over needed documents justifying their decisions, then the Department has no legal responsibility to approve the agency's recommendations.

If COPA's investigation did not convince Johnson and his legal staff that policies and procedures were violated, the department has a legal responsibility to retain Rialmo.

The Chicago Tribune obtained the investigative file, though it is heavily redacted.

The Chicago Police Department has a long history of violating due process, officers' rights, or misinterpreting policies and procedures when terminating officers. Both the Chicago Police Board and the courts have routinely overruled officer firings.

For a very long time, the vast majority of terminated police officers were returned to duty. This was due to inconsistencies in the investigations, misinterpretations of policy, procedure or rules, or decisions that were determined to be arbitrary and capricious.

Sometimes politics and public perception played a part. Officers were fired to appease politicians and the public. Much later, through the Police Board or courts, the firings were overturned and the officers returned to duty.

COPA reopened the Rialmo case as a publicity stunt. They needed a controversial incident to put them in the public's mind as defenders of something or other. The Rialmo incident fits that bill. The incident was controversial with heavy media coverage. Both victims of the shooting were sympathetic figures. One, a mentally unstable individual wielding a baseball bat. The other, an innocent bystander.

COPA probably figured that they could overturn the previous investigations and Eddie Johnson would go along, since the news media, politicians, activists, and others kept making the incident a hot-button issue.

Eddie Johnson is no fool and no one's fool. Johnson could have fired Rialmo to escape the criticism. There was a very high probability Rialmo would get back on the Department through due process, the Police Board or the courts. It happened many times before. Johnson knew this.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability set themselves up for failure by reopening a closed investigation, refusing to be transparent with the Superintendent of Police, and hanging Superintendent Eddie Johnson out to dry with their reckless and feckless behavior.

COPA is supposed to be responsible, reliable, fair, and competent. In the Rialmo case, they miserably failed.

COPA did not seek justice. COPA sought revenge. Why they sought revenge is an open question.

COPA did not offer transparency. They offered Eddie Johnson a brick wall.

COPA sowed seeds of mistrust in the rank and file of the Chicago Police Department and its Executive Staff.

The ordinance establishing COPA needs to be changed. COPA, by law, must provide solid legal reasons to reopen a closed investigation beyond a lawsuit.

COPA, by law, must provide the Chicago Police Department with the full unredacted case file once their decision is rendered.

The Superintendent of Police must be able to make a legally binding decision that will stand up to any challenges. If not, the whole internal investigative and disciplinary system cracks and crumbles to useless rubble.

Eddie Johnson made the right decision to overturn COPA's ruling to fire Officer Robert Rialmo. He made the right decision for the right reason. COPA's decision to reopen the investigation and their ruling to fire Officer Robert Rialmo would not withstand legal challenges.

Police officers are held to a higher standard of behavior than other public employees. They should have full confidence that the disciplinary system and investigative process is fair and transparent. If the system is perceived to be stacked against officers, they will not trust it.

The Superintendent of Police must have the same confidence that the investigative process is fair and transparent. He is the one who must decide. His decision must pass legal muster.

At this point in time COPA cannot be trusted by the Chicago Police Department, the rank and file of the department, or the public. Changes need to be made and made soon.

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