DOWNTOWN — In announcing she was firing Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson just weeks before his planned retirement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot refused to say what she recently learned about the night the top cop was found slumped over the wheel of his car near his Bridgeport home.
The mayor said, out of respect for Johnson’s wife and children, she would not detail the new evidence that convinced her Johnson had repeatedly lied to her and the public about what really happened that night.
But multiple reports now say there’s video evidence Johnson spent hours drinking that night at Ceres Cafe, a bar famous for its strong drinks in the Board of Trade Building, with a subordinate.
Hours later, at 12:30 a.m. Oct. 17, officers were called to a spot near Johnson’s home, where they found the superintendent in his parked car, according to a Tribune report. Johnson rolled down his police car window partway, showed the officers his superintendent’s badge and drove away.
At the time, Johnson, 60, who’s faced health woes, said there had been an issue with his heart medication and his body told him to pull over. Lightfoot said he privately told her he’d had a few drinks that night.
But Lightfoot said an investigation from the Office of the Inspector General and video from that night showed Johnson was dishonest with her and the public about what happened. Had she known the truth, she said Monday, she would have fired him sooner and not participated in last month’s “celebratory” announcement of his retirement.
An investigation is ongoing, and the inspector general’s report has not yet been publicly released.
“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 Monday.
“Mr. Johnson failed the hardworking members of the Chicago Police Department. This moment needs to be a turning point for the Chicago Police Department.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Johnson said he “did not intentionally mislead or deceive the mayor or the people of Chicago,” though he did make “a poor decision and had a lapse of judgement” the night of the incident.
“I have never claimed to be perfect, but I have always given my all for the CPD and the people of Chicago,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he’ll now focus on reconnecting with his family, enjoying the holidays and working on his health.
“I have no interest in fighting a battle for my reputation with those that want to question it now,” Johnson said. “Reputations are not built in a day and not damage in a day, either.”
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, started serving as an interim police superintendent after flying in 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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