Eddie Johnson, a body slam and the need for more transparency for CPD

Both incidents — Eddie Johnson’s dismissal and the body slamming of a man who allegedly was resisting arrest — raise more questions about the Chicago police. But in neither case does the public or media know all the facts.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson

Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Monday, accusing him of lying repeatedly to her and the public.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department is under fire again — and again.

On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, accusing him of lying to her and the public.

Five days earlier, on Thanksgiving Day, a police officer on the South Side was caught on video picking up a man and slamming him to the ground like a professional wrestler, arguably using dangerously unnecessary force.

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Both incidents — Johnson’s dismissal and the body slamming — raise yet more questions about the professionalism and integrity of the police department. Both incidents fit a pattern of deception and excessive force by the police, which is why the department is under the oversight of a federal court as it carries out a plan of reform.

Lightfoot, in fact, directly tied her decision to fire Johnson to the larger goal of reform. The superintendent’s dismissal, she said, “needs to be a turning point” for CPD and the “way things are done.”

In neither case, though, does the public or media know all the facts.

Before passing judgment, we’d like to learn the full stories. We’d like to know what the mayor says Johnson lied about and find out exactly when she learned each and every detail. We’d also like to hear Johnson’s defense.

We would also like to know exactly what occurred before the other cop on Thanksgiving body slammed the man to the pavement.

We live in hyper-reactive times. Social media lives and feeds off instant judgment. Fairness demands that we take a breath.

Lightfoot on Monday accused Johnson of lying about an embarrassing incident on Oct. 17 when he was found slumped over in his police SUV near 34th Street and Aberdeen. He had dismissed his driver and attempted to drive himself home.

At that time, Lightfoot said that Johnson blamed a change in his blood pressure medication and told her he’d had “a couple of drinks with dinner.” The mayor appeared to be inclined to accept Johnson’s explanation and move on, but she asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate.

On Monday, having reviewed Ferguson’s findings and bodycam video, the mayor reversed course entirely, now excoriating the superintendent.

It was now “clear,” Lightfoot said, “that Eddie Johnson engaged in conduct that is not only unbecoming, but demonstrated a series of ethical lapses and flawed decision-making that is inconsistent with having the privilege of leading the Chicago Police Department.”

Lightfoot said Johnson “intentionally misled the people of Chicago and he intentionally misled me.”

On the face of it, this sounds to us like more of the same: Another Chicago cop — this time the top cop — telling a self-serving story that’s exposed as a lie. But it’s tough to be sure without knowing exactly what Johnson supposedly did wrong.

At a press conference, Lightfoot declined to lay out the full story. Saying anything more, she suggested, could compromise Ferguson’s continued investigation into “others” who may have been involved. She also said she didn’t think it was “appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson’s wife or children” to reveal all the details “at this time.”

How then are Chicagoans to judge for themselves whether Johnson’s firing was justified or, conversely, punishment enough?

The sooner Ferguson’s report and any video are made public, the better.

In the same way, we look forward to learning the full story of why, at a bus stop on East 79th Street, a police officer slammed to the ground a man who was being detained for drinking in public.

An image taken from a cellphone video that was posted to social media Nov. 28, 2019, shows a Chicago police officer lift a man off his feet and slam him to the ground after he allegedly spit on the officer while being detained for drinking in public.

An image taken from a cellphone video that was posted to social media on Nov. 28, 2019, shows a Chicago police officer lift a man off his feet and slam him to the ground after the man allegedly spit on the officer while being detained for drinking in public.

Provided photo

According to the police, the alleged offender, Bernard Kersh, 29, resisted arrest, threatened an officer and spat in the officer’s eye.

None of that, however, is confirmed in a video of the encounter, which shows only the brutal take-down. Kersh’s head appears to slam into the curb.

Already, police critics are condemning the officer’s actions without reservation, while the Fraternal Order of Police insists the body slam was justified and necessary.

The video is disturbing. It’s hard for us to see how the officer, if properly trained, had no choice. In the moment just before the body slam, Kersh is turned away from the officer and does not appear to be an immediate threat, as offensive and obnoxious as he may have been.

But as Lightfoot said, “a single video does not depict the entirety of the interactions between the police and the individual.”

Cops must deal with people at their worst every day and, for all their training, they are human. Extenuating circumstances matter.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is investigating the incident. We await its findings.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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