Former Top Cop Was Drunk When Officers Allowed Him to Drive Home: Watchdog

Video: Body camera footage released by the city of Chicago on Monday, June 29, 2020 shows an Chicago police officer’s encounter with then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who was found asleep in his car on Oct. 17, 2019.

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Former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson apparently passed out in his running car at a stop sign in Bridgeport for nearly two hours after consuming “several large servings of rum” at a bar in the Loop, an investigation by the city’s watchdog concluded.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Johnson after she said he lied to her and the public about the incident. Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released a report Thursday that concluded Johnson lied repeatedly about the incident and what happened afterward.

City cameras captured Johnson arriving in the area near 34th and Aberdeen streets at 10:39 p.m. on Oct. 16. Officers responded to a 911 call about a man asleep in his car at a stop sign at 12:33 a.m. on Oct. 17, according to the investigation.

Officers allowed Johnson to drive away 13 minutes after they knocked on the window of Johnson’s CPD-issued SUV, after the former top cop flashed his badge, according to the investigation. No chemical or field sobriety tests were performed, Ferguson found.

Johnson only said two words to responding officers: “I’m good,” according to body cam footage released by the city in June.

Three minutes after Johnson drove away, with officers following him toward his home, Johnson ran a stop sign and made  “a slow, wide right turn into the wrong lane” before correcting his car’s path and heading south on Racine Avenue.

Johnson was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident, Ferguson concluded.

Thomas Needham, Johnson’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

Chicago Police Department officials are reviewing the report and "will take any necessary disciplinary measures upon their complete review of that report," according to a statement sent to WTTW News.

Johnson lied twice during a news conference about the incident on Oct. 17, Ferguson found.

Johnson said he was “out with a group of friends for dinner,” but was actually with his driver, who is also a member of his security detail, according to the investigation. Johnson was with a female member of the police department who is not his wife, Nakia Fenner, who is a lieutenant.

Even though that officer had been drinking with him, Johnson dropped that officer off at CPD headquarters at 35th Street and Michigan Avenue, where that officer got into their department vehicle and drove away, according to the investigation.

In addition, Johnson told the news media he ordered an internal affairs investigation into the incident, but did not do so, according to the investigation.

Johnson also omitted a “critical detail” — that he had been drinking before the incident — and said he suffered a medical incident resulting from a mix-up involving his medication during that news conference, according to the investigation.

Those statements “resulted in a materially inaccurate portrayal of the incident in remarks he made while in uniform and speaking in an official capacity,” according to the investigation.

When Johnson spoke with the mayor and her staff, he acknowledged “in passing to having a couple of drinks with dinner” but again blamed the incident on an issue with his medication and said he ordered officers to file a complaint against him, according to the investigation.

Johnson declined to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General as part of its investigation,

In the wake of the incident, Johnson announced Nov. 7 he would retire, citing his health and a desire to spend more time with his family. Lightfoot joined Johnson to make the announcement, and celebrated his three years and nine months in office.

But on Dec. 2, Lightfoot fired Johnson, saying he lied to her several times and “intentionally misled the public” after Ferguson shared the initial results of his probe that included video of Johnson at Ceres, a Downtown watering hole known for stiff drinks.

Ferguson is also investigating the conduct of Johnson’s driver, who was with him on the night of Oct. 16, as well as the “CPD member response to the call involving the former superintendent,” according to the report from the inspector general’s office.

Chicago Police officials have until July 28 to respond to Ferguson’s initial findings in those matters.

Lightfoot and Ferguson are long-time friends, and served together in the U.S. attorney’s office. Ferguson has 15 months left to serve in his four-year term, his third in office.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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