DOWNTOWN — Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has been fired by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Johnson, 60, said in early November he would retire but see out the end of the year and help his replacement transition into the top role in the Chicago Police Department. Lightfoot instead fired him, she announced Monday, saying the firing was related to an October incident where he was found asleep in a car.
During a news conference, Lightfoot said Johnson lied to her, misled the public and made ethical lapses related to the incident.
“It has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of actions that are intolerable for any leader in a position of trust,” Lightfoot said.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing. But Lightfoot said she reviewed video evidence and a report on the investigation, and the video did not match up with what Johnson told her and the public. Her “only choice” was to fire him, she said.
Lightfoot said if she had known what happened that night, she would have fired Johnson immediately and would not have “participated in a celebratory press conference to announce his retirement.”
“Mr. Johnson failed the hardworking members of the Chicago Police Department,” Lightfoot said. “This moment needs to be a turning point for the Chicago Police Department.”
Lightfoot said in past years, it’s possible “someone in Mr. Johnson’s circumstances” would have been allowed to retire rather than be fired. But that’d be inconsistent with the leadership Lightfoot wants to encourage, she said.
Charlie Beck, the former head of the Los Angeles Police Department, will start serving as an interim police superintendent on Monday. Beck has said he has no plans to seek the job permanently, and Lightfoot has not yet said who she wants to take over.
Johnson held back tears when he announced his retirement in November, but he said it was “time for someone else to pin these four stars to their shoulders.”
Johnson was handpicked by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take over the Chicago Police Department in March 2016. Emanuel had just fired Garry McCarthy in the wake of massive protests over the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teen shot dead by a white Chicago Police officer.
Johnson didn’t want the job, city hall sources told DNAinfo at the time, and he told reporters he didn’t apply for it.
But Emanuel rejected three candidates nominated for the position by the Chicago Police Board, named Johnson interim superintendent and asked the board to draw up a new list of candidates — one that would include Johnson so he could be officially named to the spot. His nomination was eventually unanimously approved by the City Council.
The department was beset by issues when Johnson took over: It’d come under national scrutiny after the release of a video showing McDonald’s slaying, shootings surged in 2016 and more than 730 people were murdered, and the city’s crime was routinely brought up by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Shootings have fallen under Johnson’s tenure, and the department has made steps toward reform and hired detectives.
But Johnson has also faced health issues. He fainted at a press conference in 2017 and received a kidney transplant from his son. Earlier in 2019, doctors found a blood clot in his lung.
And in October, Johnson was found asleep in a car. Lightfoot said Johnson had told her he’d had a few drinks at dinner, and the incident was put under investigation by the inspector general’s office.
The two refused to discuss that investigation during Johnson’s retirement announcement, with Lightfoot saying it would be inappropriate since the review is ongoing and neither she nor Johnson wanted to influence it.
Johnson said his family has long encouraged him to retire, in part because of his health issues. But he also wants to spend more time with his wife and three children, including his young son. The boy would often call his dad to ask what time he’d be home — and to ask for a strawberry doughnut with sprinkles.
There were two moments that cemented Johnson’s decision, he said during his Nov. 7 announcement.
Earlier this year, Johnson was at a police memorial when he spoke with the widows of three officers who were killed. As he spoke with them, he saw pride in their faces — but also pain, he said.
Afterward, as Johnson and Lightfoot sat by a waterfall, he leaned over to Lightfoot and told her, “We need to start talking about an end date for me.”
“Losing those officers is hard,” Johnson said, his face red as he tried not to weep. “That’s when I started thinking about it.”
And when Johnson went to London for a Bears game this fall, he said he felt normal and realized how much his family missed him. It was his only vacation in three and a half years as superintendent, Johnson said.
“I can’t keep punishing them,” he said before wrapping an arm around his youngest son. “It’s time. It’s time.”
Johnson grew up in Cabrini-Green before moving to Washington Heights as a child. He went to college and started as a beat cop in 1988, eventually being promoted to the 6th District commander in 2008 and chief of patrol in 2012.
Johnson has three children; Daniel, the son who gave Johnson a kidney, was sworn in as a Chicago Police officer in 2018.
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