(Tribune) Rialmo had taken the stand to contend he punched the men in self-defense and defense of his property after one tried to take his jacket near closing time.
Gallagher cited facts supporting the self-defense argument in his brief ruling from the bench at the branch courthouse at Grand and Central avenues.
Among other factors, Gallagher noted that the jacket was Rialmo’s and one of the officer’s friends, apparently sensing danger, tried to get his fiancee out of harm’s way before the punches were thrown. The judge retired to his chambers for about an hour after the trial ended before emerging and announcing his decision.
Rialmo walked out of court smiling behind mirrored sunglasses and told reporters that “people have the wrong idea” about him.
“I’m just pleased the judge saw what happened that night and ruled in my favor,” he said.
The city could still seek to discipline Rialmo in the altercation. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the city’s police disciplinary agency that is still investigating the fight, uses a lower standard of proof in finding misconduct than the criminal courts. He already faces potential firing by the Chicago Police Board for the 2015 shooting of bat-wielding 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and bystander Bettie Jones, 55.
Rialmo, who is on paid desk duty, said outside court that he hopes to stay on the force.
Just weeks ago, Rialmo faced a civil trial over lawsuits stemming from the shooting. As different as the two proceedings were, they were the same in one way — Rialmo claimed he used force in self-defense.
The unusual two-day bench trial explored an altercation at Moretti’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in the Edison Park neighborhood. The confrontation began as bargoer Atmiya Patel picked through coats on a chair, looking for his own, he testified. Patel acknowledged in court that the flannel jacket he thought was his was actually Rialmo’s.
Bar surveillance footage aired in court shows Rialmo pushing Patel, knocking him into a table and chairs and onto the floor. Rialmo then dropped Patel’s friend Brandon Stassen, with a punch to the face that knocked him unconscious, according to the footage and testimony. Patel then tried to regain his footing, but Rialmo laid him out with another punch. Rialmo was then rushed from view of the cameras.
Rialmo’s lawyer, Joel Brodsky, argued that the men were drunk and unreasonable, Patel tried to take Rialmo’s jacket and Stassen grabbed at his upper body.
On the witness stand Tuesday afternoon, Rialmo sought to reinforce the contention that he acted in self-defense. He said Patel appeared drunk and agitated and insisted he was taking the jacket. Rialmo said Stassen approached with a bottle in his hand and the officer feared he planned to hit him in the head with it. Rialmo said he punched Patel again as he tried to get up because he feared he would charge him.
Brodsky also called to the stand two of Rialmo’s longtime friends and hockey teammates who were at the tavern that night. Both said the men were aggressive and menacing to Rialmo, who was calm during the altercation.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, asked questions geared toward minimizing the threat Rialmo contended he faced. Assistant State’s Attorney Maureen McCurry noted that Rialmo is a hockey player and police officer who was near several friends when the altercation happened. During her closing argument, she called his claim of self-defense “absurd.”
“This isn’t a bar fight, your honor,” she said. “This is a bar attack.”
Rialmo had faced a count of theft related to the dispute over the jacket, but prosecutors dropped that charge before the trial. Continue Reading
Article Org: chicagotribune.com