Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday that she fired police Superintendent Eddie Johnson effectively immediately, just weeks before his retirement. The incident at the center of the controversy occurred in October when Johnson was found behind the wheel of his car asleep after he pulled over near a stop sign late at night. Multiple reports on the previously obscure story indicate he was out drinking with a woman who was not his wife the night of the incident.
During the news conference announcing Johnson’s firing Monday, Lightfoot declined to give specifics about the incident out of respect for Johnson’s family. The mayor said, vaguely, that he had lied to her and the public about the events surrounding that October night and that he demonstrated “ethical lapses.”
“While at some point the [Inspector General]’s report may become public and those details may be revealed, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson’s wife or children to do so at this time,” she said.
Johnson had originally said his failure to take his blood pressure medication led to him feeling lightheaded as he was driving home from dinner with friends, where he had “a couple of drinks with dinner.” However, he did not explain why he was driving home from dinner at 12:30 a.m. Officers responded to the incident, and Johnson’s chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, issued a statement later that day saying that the responding officers did not notice “any signs of impairment.” Johnson drove himself home.
Gugliemi also said Johnson called a city inspector general investigation upon himself “because of the optics.”
But new accounts reported anonymously to the Chicago Tribune say when police arrived at his car window, Johnson cracked it halfway, flashed his superintendent badge and drove away. Unnamed sources also told the Tribune that the inspector general’s office obtained a video of Johnson from that night, drinking with a woman who was not his wife at the Ceres Cafe, a restaurant and bar at the Chicago Board of Trade building.
During Monday’s press conference, Lightfoot mentioned viewing the video evidence of the superintendent that the inspector general had obtained but did not outline the contents, saying only that what she saw left her no choice but to fire Johnson.
“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.
The mayor cited three reasons for his firing: that he “engaged in conduct that is not only unbecoming but demonstrated a series of ethical lapses and flawed decision-making,” that during the news conference following the October incident he recounted “a narrative replete with false statements, all seemingly intended to hide the true nature of his conduct from the evening before” and that he lied to her “even when I challenged him about the narrative that he shared with me.”
Johnson is the fourth of the last six superintendents who were fired or resigned among controversy or scandal. He took the job in 2015 after Garry McCarthy stepped down after Black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting by police.
In the mayor’s statement, she said rank-and-file police officers were held accountable for wrongdoing, while supervisors got a pass. She said if she had known the truth about Johnson’s conduct, she would not have taken part in the celebratory press conference Nov. 7 to announce his retirement.
“The old Chicago way must give way to the new reality,” Lightfoot said. “Ethical leadership, integrity, accountability, legitimacy and yes, honesty must be the hallmarks of city government.”
Johnson has not spoken publicly or to the press since he was terminated.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was set to take over the Chicago department after Johnson retired but now is taking the position early.