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Johnson describes attack on cop: ‘She thought she was gonna die’

Despite public scrutiny and criticism, police officers continue to put their lives on the line every day, Supt. Eddie Johnson said. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been trying desperately to coax Chicago Police officers out of their defensive crouch.

Their reluctance is believed to have contributed, in part, to a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings.

But coaxing is not working, according a story Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson told at Thursday’s annual police and fire awards ceremony in the City Council chambers.

Johnson talked about something that happened Wednesday after officers responded to what he called a “simple traffic accident” that turned ugly.

“A subject who was under the influence of PCP attacked a female officer. Viciously pounded her head into the street as her partner was trying to get him off of her. This attack went on for several minutes,” Johnson told the assembled dignitaries.

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“As I was at the hospital last night visiting with her, she looked at me and said she thought she was gonna die. And she knew that she should shoot this guy. But, she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news.”

The incident occurred after two officers saw a vehicle crash into a building at Roosevelt and Cicero. They approached a man walking away from the vehicle, and a struggle ensued.

During the struggle, “the offender struck a female officer in the face and body and then repeatedly smashed her face into the pavement until she was rendered unconscious,” according to a police report. The officer’s partner used a Taser and pepper spray to stop the attack, according to the report.

Johnson noted that the female officer “could have lost her life last night. … She’s hospitalized right now, but she still has the spirit and the bravery that these officers and firefighters” display every day.

“We have to change the narrative for law enforcement across this country,” Johnson said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he talked to the female officer about her brush with death shortly before Thursday’s awards ceremony.

“The good news is, she’s got her spirit and energy about her, her humor and her wits about her. And what was a simple thing turned into what could have been a life-threatening incident,” Emanuel said.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, none of us can quite fully comprehend the split-second decisions that people have to make in that moment and put ourselves in that context. Because in many situations when there’s a fire, we instinctively run away. You run towards it. When there’s an incident of violence, we run away. You run towards it. Clearly a different type of character, training, dedication and duty. The city of Chicago is a better city because you have answered a call.”

The 43-year-old officer has served on the department for 17 years, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Sun-Times.

She remains in the hospital. The man who attacked her was a 28-year-old convicted felon with three prior weapons arrest. He was treated and released at Loretto Hospital. Charges against him are pending, Guglielmi said.

Johnson’s remarks come the day after the City Council approved the first two parts of Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul: a Civilian Office of Police Accountability to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, and a deputy inspector general for public safety to audit police practices, identify troubling trends, recommend changes to the police contract and bird-dog the accountability system.

Six of the eight “no” votes were cast by aldermen who are either former cops or whose wards are home to scores of Chicago Police officers who view the new system of police accountability as being stacked against them: Marty Quinn (13th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Mike Zalewski (23rd); Chris Taliaferro (29th), Nick Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).

That means the mayor’s job of convincing police officers to be pro-active again — instead of being afraid of being captured on the next YouTube video, as they have since the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video — will be even more difficult.

After the ceremony, Johnson was asked whether the female officer would have been justified in shooting the man with PCP in his system accused of beating her head into the ground.

“All I’m telling you all is what she said to me. It’s pretty apparent that it was a horrific incident. She could have lost her life yesterday. Any time you face a life or death situation, then you can use deadly force. Because that’s what he was trying to do to her,” he said.

Pressed on whether the incident provided further proof that his officers are “laying back” for fear of being scrutinized and second-guessed, he said, “I don’t know if that’s an example of laying back. But, that’s an example of how dangerous this job is. And because of the scrutiny going on nationwide, it does make officers second-guess themselves. And that’s what we don’t want them to do.”

The superintendent said he plans to turn that around by “encouraging” his officers and assuring them he has their backs.

“But, at the same time, we know we have to change this national narrative that the cops are the bad guys. The cops are actually the good guys trying to do a difficult job,” Johnson said.

Johnson denied that the mayor’s decision to replace IPRA with a multi-tiered system of police accountability would impact how police officers are behaving on the street. He pointed to the fact that gun arrests are up over last year.

“They’re out there doing what they’re supposed to do. But at the same time, we have to recognize that these men and women are out there putting their lives on the line every day. That incident yesterday illustrates that,” he said.

Emanuel has promised to find the $134 million needed to to fill 471 police vacancies, keep pace with rising attrition and still hire enough police officers to add 516 patrol officers, 92 field training officers, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 200 detectives to raise an abysmal clearance rate for homicides and shootings.

But, the mayor has also said it won’t matter how many new officers the city hires if officers remain in their defensive crouch.

“We can’t have a Police Department that feels like it’s better for them to just drive in a community without stopping and stopping the gang-bangers and the drug dealers. That’s not good and healthy for the community. We need to give them support to do their job,” Emanuel said last month.

“Unless we change the narrative where our police are seen as being put on the defensive, we’re not gonna get where we need to be.”

Last fall, Emanuel contended during a closed-door meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and 20 big-city mayors and police chiefs that police officers across the nation were becoming “fetal” because they’re afraid their videotaped encounters with the public will end up on YouTube.

Less than two months later, the pullback by Chicago Police officers got dramatically worse, prompting a precipitous drop in police activity.

It happened after the court-ordered release of a video played around the world of white police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald. The video triggered a sweeping federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

In a commentary that appeared last month in the Wall Street Journal, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo was quoted as saying that, “The streets are gone” because police officers no longer believe that politicians and the public have their back.