When a police officer fatally shoots a person, there are usually reasons offered, including that the officer was afraid for his life, the victim was reaching for his waistband or refused to show his hands, or a glint looked like a gun. When Robert Rialmo, a Chicago police officer, killed Bettie Jones, 55, there were no reasons to give. Officials acknowledged that Jones had not only been innocent, but had died while trying to help the police, the New York Times reports. During the same 2015 incident, Rialmo he fatally shot Quintonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old college student. Although a city review board found that Rialmo’s actions in both shootings were unjustified, Chicago could hardly have treated the two deaths more differently.
Jones’s family stands to receive one of the largest settlements ever in a fatal police shooting — $16 million, pending City Council approval. LeGrier’s family did not receive a settlement. The family sued, and on Wednesday a jury awarded them $1 million, but the judge reversed the decision, awarding nothing. The difference, say lawyers who have represented families of shooting victims, is that in Jones’s case the facts are unusually clear cut, while in LeGrier’s, they are more in line with typical police shootings: murky, complex and disputed. In such cases, much depends on the word of the officer, who is usually given the benefit of the doubt. Much depends on whether the officer is considered to have been reasonably afraid, whether or not there was an actual threat. The LeGrier lawsuit followed a pattern: The vast majority of families who lose someone in a questionable police shooting get nothing. The Times lists a wide range of settlement amounts in other high-profile police shootings. In all of these cases, the person who died was black.