CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot terminated Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson effective immediately Monday, saying an investigation into an incident when Johnson was reportedly asleep in a vehicle revealed, “actions that are intolerable for any leader.”
In October, Johnson was spotted slumped over the wheel of his black SUV near his Bridgeport home. In a press conference he called after the incident, Johnson initially said he'd forgotten to take his blood pressure medication and became lightheaded. But he later admitted to Lightfoot that he'd had “a couple of drinks” at dinner.
The incident has since been under investigation by Chicago's Office of the Inspector General. The investigation is not yet complete, and it's unclear whether Lightfoot was shown early findings ahead of the top cop's firing.
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that video footage shows Johnson drinking for a few hours on the evening of Oct. 16 with a woman at the Ceres Cafe in the Loop. The mayor will only say that she saw the Inspector General's report over the weekend and it did not line up with what she was told by Johnson.
In November, Johnson announced he would retire at the end of the year after more than 30 years with the department. When reporters asked if his departure had anything to do with the incident, he became visibly upset.
"This job has taken its toll on my health, my family, my friends but my integrity remains intact," he said at the time.
However, Lightfoot cut his final month short by announcing his termination. Sources told WGN Johnson did not notify department leaders of his firing before the mayor went to the microphones to announce it.
“Mr. Johnson was intentionally dishonest with me and communicated a narrative replete with false statements regarding material aspects of the incident that happened in the early morning hours of October 17,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Had I known all the facts at the time, I would have relieved him of his duties as superintendent then and there.”
Lightfoot said out of respect for Johnson's wife and children she would not go into detail, only saying video evidence and the Inspector General's report led to her decision to fire him. Once the investigation is complete the IG will release a summary report, but it's up to the mayor whether the full report is made public.
Interim CPD Superintendent Charlie Beck, who was appointed by Lightfoot last month, is now in Chicago and is taking over the department effective immediately.
He issued the following statement Monday:
I wanted to take a moment to reach out to the sworn and civilian members of the Chicago Police Department this morning to let you know that it is an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to serve as your Interim Police Superintendent. I know that the events of this morning likely caused a great deal of unease, but rest assured this Department is stable, strong, and headed in the right direction.
I served as a police officer for more than 40 years in Los Angeles, and was their Police Chief for nine of those years. I come from a police family. My father came to the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1950s, and all three of my kids are on the job in LA today.
I understand and respect what it is that you do each and every day in serving the public, and I intend to do everything in my interim capacity to support you and that work.
Over the last few years, the progress that you have made here in Chicago is impressive and is a testament to each one of you. In 2016, as America watched this city, you all could have gone in a direction like many other cities. But instead, you developed a crime strategy that has delivered a nearly 40% drop in gun violence in four years. You have embraced community partnership and constitutional policing by implementing a series of reforms and supports that are collaborative as opposed to punitive.
There is still a tremendous amount of work ahead and we will need to manage through our current challenges, but I am incredibly thankful and proud to be here to help us move forward.
Over the next several weeks I will continue visiting Police Districts and Areas, and I look forward to meeting many of you in person. I believe in each of you and your collective capacity to continue to move this Department forward and keep this city safe.
See you out there.
Interim Superintendent of Police
Johnson, a native Chicagoan, held just about every rank on the police force. He was named superintendent in 2016 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had fired Superintendent Garry McCarthy after the release of the now-infamous video of Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald and was scrambling to restore confidence in both himself and the department.
Police union president Kevin Graham says he heard from City Hall one hour before the public announcement that Eddie Johnson had been fired.
“I was surprised mostly because he was going to resign at the end of the month,” Graham said.
The Fraternal Order of Police had tangled with Johnson on a number of issues, most recently Johnson’s decision to skip President Trump’s speech to police officers in Chicago, a move that led the union to issue a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership.
Graham says the mayor is also sending a message about transparency and accountability.
“Everyone is equally accountable for the actions they take,” Graham said. “The only thing that it does do is says that the mayor is serious about her accountability. We’ve been asking for that for a long time."
Police accountability activist Eric Russell has been calling for Mayor Lightfoot to replace Johnson for months, and praised the decision to do so.
“This is the best personnel decision that the Mayor has made since firing her tailor," Russell said. “We all want our chief law enforcement officer to be above reproach, but the prevailing opinion is that the superintendent of police is not above reproach."
Former Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy spoke with WGN Monday after the mayor broke the news, and said he feels it's a very positive move.
bec"Personally I like Eddie Johnson, I've promoted him a couple of times. But you can't have two sets of standards. If we hold police officers to something called, 'you lie, you die,' you have to hold the leadership to those same issues," McCarthy said.
Meantime in Chicago, some praised Johnson for ushering in reform and boosting morale among the rank-and-file.