First-term police union president John Catanzara announced his plans to retire from the Chicago Police Department following the start of a three-day hearing that could have resulted in his termination.
The stunning announcement comes after Catanzara spent hours testifying before a hearing officer about accusations that he violated nearly a dozen CPD rules stemming from his inflammatory social media activity and false police reports he filed against a supervisor and former Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Catanzara, who has been an officer with the CPD for nearly 27 years, said he plans to submit his resignation Tuesday. He was elected president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 in May 2020 and immediately became a massive thorn in the side of city leadership including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, on issues including a new police contract and Chicago’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Catanzara intends to remain on as FOP president. Following the hearing Monday, he called the proceeding a “charade” and expressed his intent to run for mayor against Lightfoot in 2023.
“There was never a possibility under God’s green earth that I was ever going to give this mayor the ability to utter the words ‘I fired you,’” he said. “It was never gonna happen.”
Lightfoot on Monday told WTTW News she was “not surprised” that Catanzara “saw the writing on the wall” and resigned.
“He has disgraced himself and disgraced the department,” she said during a “Chicago Tonight” interview. “I think there was a very strong case that was going to be made against him.”
If Catanzara does indeed resign Tuesday, his termination hearing will not continue.
“Once an officer resigns from the Chicago Police Department, under the Municipal Code the Police Board no longer has jurisdiction to take disciplinary action,” the Chicago Police Board said in a statement.
Catanzara has repeatedly invited controversy, even aside from his disciplinary matters before the Police Board. Earlier this year he apologized after initially defending insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
He also faced backlash after comparing Chicago’s vaccine mandate for all city employees to Nazi Germany.
“We’re in America, G-ddamnit. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi f---ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f---ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the f--k?” Catanzara said. He later apologized after his remarks were widely condemned.
Before his resignation, attorneys representing Police Superintendent David Brown said Catanzara’s social media activity was a blight on the CPD’s public image. One of those attorneys, James Lydon, said Catanzara used racist and homophobic language in those posts, which were “horribly disparaging” to large groups of people.
“This case is about an officer, John Catanzara, who violated the rules of conduct in efforts to bring attention to himself,” Lydon said, “and in the process thumbed his nose at superior officers and department directives along the way.”
In all, Catanzara has been accused of repeatedly violating 11 CPD rules, including insubordination, incompetency, disobedience, participating in partisan political activities and making a false report.
Catanzara on Monday entered pleas of “not liable” on all the allegations against him.
His attorney Tim Grace claimed this case isn’t about Catanzara’s actions, but rather CPD supervisors trying to “protect themselves.” He called Catanzara a “beacon of light in dark times,” going so far as to compare his client to Paul Revere for warning others that CPD supervisors follow a “separate set of rules” and must be held accountable.
Grace acknowledged some of Catanzara's language in the posts was “unsettling” and “vulgar.” But he argued that Catanzara never made any calls for violence or used racist or misogynistic language in the posts, and was simply responding to “internet trolls” who had used “despicable language toward him and fellow members of the Chicago Police Department.”
In a surprise move, Grace said Catanzara had planned to give his own closing statements Wednesday.
But Catanzara didn’t have to wait long to begin speaking, as he was the first witness called Monday. Brown’s attorneys grilled him during a contentious back-and-forth about several Facebook posts Catanzara made on his personal page between 2016 and 2018.
In one, posted in November 2016, Catanzara wrote: “Wtf its (sic) seriously time to kill these m-----f-----s,” after a Wayne State University police officer was shot and killed in the line of duty.
Asked if he was advocating for vigilante justice in this post, Catanzara said no, he was calling for the death penalty. But asked a second time if he thought the offender should be killed, Catanzara replied: “Yeah, I was hoping when they’d catch him they’d kill him because I’m sick and tired of police officers getting killed.”
In January 2017, he wrote of Muslims, specifically those who support Sharia law: “Savages they all deserve a bullet” after viewing a graphic video of a woman being stoned to death.
Citing that post, Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, lauded Catanzara’s decision to resign.
“It is unambiguously good news for the Chicago Police Department and for the many American Muslims in Chicago that John Catanzara has said he intends to retire immediately,” Muslim Advocates Communications Director Eric Naing said in a statement. “We hope he actually follows through on his promise.”
The lone post Catanzara said he did regret was one in which he stated: “Rahm Free City 2019 Make Chicago Great Again DRAIN THE CITY HALL SWAMP #MAGA.” On Monday, Catanzara — taking a dig at Lightfoot whom he’s butted heads with at every turn since they've each taken office — said he wished Emanuel was “still here.”
Catanzara repeatedly said he was not operating in his capacity as a police officer when he made these posts.
Also at issue during the hearing is a criminal incident report Catanzara filed against Eddie Johnson accusing him of “criminal trespass to state supported land” following a 2018 anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Brown’s attorneys claimed he had no standing to file such a complaint. When Catanzara’s supervisor later terminated the report, Catanzara filed a second criminal incident report against that supervisor, Commander Ronald Pontecore, Jr., accusing him of obstructing justice.
Catanzara on Monday stood by those reports, claiming Johnson engaged in "criminal behavior" by participating in the march and Pontecore's actions did amount to obstruction. He said he sees himself as a "whistleblower."
“I am sitting in this chair as the spokesperson for thousands of officers who duly elected me to this position because they think and say the same stuff that I’m thinking and saying,” he said. “I’m just the one that’s taking the bullet, but I’m OK with that.”
This week's hearings are similar in process to a criminal trial. A hearing officer acts as the judge in the case, but the nine-member Police Board was set to eventually determine Catanzara’s fate after reviewing the testimony and evidence presented this week as well as a report from the hearing officer.
That decision was expected to come sometime early next year.
Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431