In early November, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced his decision to retire on January 1, 2020. On Monday, the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, fired him before he had a chance to do that. An incident involving Johnson and impaired driving led to an investigation by the city’s inspector general’s office. The mayor isn’t pleased with the results of that investigation.
This is a change of course for the mayor, who on November 7 held a press conference that had a celebratory tone about it as she spoke of Johnson’s upcoming retirement. She referred to his ability to be a calming force when dealing with volatile situations that the city often finds itself in. After reading the findings of the police investigation, though, she’s not such a fan of Johnson’s behavior.
When Johnson announced his decision to retire, I thought the timing was off. While he said he was ready to spend more time with his family after a career in law enforcement, his retirement fell before he was fully vested in his pension in April 2020. I pondered why he would walk away from a 31-year career with the department without waiting a few more months to be eligible for his full superintendent pension. It just didn’t make sense.
To refresh your memory, this all started when Superintendent Johnson was found slumped over the wheel of his police vehicle at 12:30 a.m. one early morning in October. At the time, he claimed it was a reaction his body had to a problem with high blood pressure and a new medication. He told the mayor, in private, that he had a couple of drinks at dinner that night.
Fast forward to Monday when Mayor Lightfoot announced her decision to fire Johnson. The report from the IG’s investigation concludes that Johnson didn’t just innocently have a couple of drinks during dinner that night. Video footage shows Superintendent Johnson sitting in a Ceres Cafe, a popular restaurant and bar in the Chicago Board of Trade building, drinking with a woman who is not his wife. Ahem. The report states that when police responded to a 911 call near his home, Johnson rolled his vehicle’s window halfway down, flashed his superintendent’s badge, and then drove off. That happened at 12:30 a.m.
So, the report paints a different picture than just an innocent drink or two over a long meal. And, who is the woman? The establishment’s manager has declined to comment to reporters. After reviewing the report and the video footage, Mayor Lightfoot said she had no choice but to fire Johnson. She is making an example of him – my words, not hers. “I saw things that were inconsistent with what Mr. Johnson had told me personally and what he revealed to members of the public,” she said. She gave three reasons for her decision:
— That he “engaged in conduct that is not only unbecoming but demonstrated a series of ethical lapses and flawed decision-making” in the October incident.
— That the superintendent called a news conference later the day of the incident in which he communicated “a narrative replete with false statements, all seemingly intended to hide the true nature of his conduct from the evening before.”
— That Johnson intentionally lied to the mayor several times, “even when I challenged him about the narrative that he shared with me.”
It sounds to me that the mayor is angry that Johnson lied to her about what he was doing that night. That’s understandable. She believed his story and announced his resignation during a complimentary press conference. Remember, she praised him for his judgment and behavior in the office. The IG’s report hasn’t been released, though the mayor says it may be released later. She said it isn’t appropriate or fair to his wife and children at this time. In other words, she is protecting them from public humiliation. At least for now. It sounds like he was acting as though he was seeing someone on the side, right? Normally, someone driving home from dinner isn’t doing so at 12:30 a.m. It’s probably just a matter of time before someone leaks it to the press.
“Just like with the public, Eddie Johnson intentionally lied to me several times,” Lightfoot said. “Even when I challenged him about the narrative he shared with me, he maintained that he was telling the truth. I now know definitively that he was not. Had I known these facts at the time, I would have relieved him of his duties as superintendent then and there. I certainly would not have participated in a celebratory press conference to announce his retirement.”
Johnson issued a two-page statement about his firing. He denies “misleading” the mayor but admits a “lapse of judgment”. He doesn’t plan to fight for his reputation and feels “at peace” with his career.
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck took over the job on Monday. He flew into Chicago, though he wasn’t supposed to have the job until January 1, 2020. He sent out a letter to CPD officers to reassure them that the department is “headed in the right direction”.
During his first full day on the job Tuesday, Beck said this was not how he envisioned the transition into his position happening, and that he still considers Johnson a friend, but there has to be accountability in the Chicago Police Department and that includes the former superintendent.
“Well, I’ll say this, you know, none of us are perfect, everybody makes mistakes, but we live with that, we have to live with our errors,” Beck said.
Beck sent a letter to CPD officers saying in part he realizes “Johnson’s firing probably caused a great deal of unease but the Department is strong and headed in the right direction”. Beck’s letter also praised CPD for a “crime strategy that has delivered nearly a 40% percent drop in gun violence over the last four years” while acknowledging there is still a tremendous amount of work ahead.
It’s true – none of us are perfect. However, the top cop is expected to set an example for the rest of the department. Johnson failed as he was heading out the door. The mayor is holding him accountable. That’s her call.