No cop-out: Lightfoot must release IG report that led to Eddie Johnson’s firing

The full story is in the details, which are sure to be found in city Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s report on the incident.

SHARE No cop-out: Lightfoot must release IG report that led to Eddie Johnson’s firing
With Mayor Lori Lightfoot, his 10-year-old son and his wife looking on, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced his retirement Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announces his retirement last November as Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on. She fired him a month later.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Chicagoans deserve to know the full circumstances that led Mayor Lori Lightfoot to fire former police Supt. Eddie Johnson in December.

We know the broad strokes behind the decision, of course. However, the devil — and the full story — is in the details, which are sure to be found in city Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s report on the incident.

But Lightfoot says she will not release Ferguson’s findings.

That’s the wrong move.

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The city did release some documents and video from a single police body camera related to the Oct. 17 incident in which Johnson was found listless at the wheel of his SUV near his Bridgeport home.

Johnson later said he was having a bad reaction to a change in his blood pressure medication, but after it was discovered he had spent the evening drinking, Lightfoot cut him loose two months after the incident.

This isn’t about piling up on Johnson. But questions about that night still linger. Why didn’t the officers give Johnson a sobriety test? Were rules bent? If so, by whom? Why? And under whose order?

Mayor says ordinance prevents release

Why won’t Lightfoot release the report?

She cites an ordinance she pushed through the City Council last September — before the Johnson incident — that allows the corporation counsel to release Ferguson’s reports only when they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”

The Johnson report doesn’t meet those standards, she said.

“I know that makes people unhappy,” Lightfoot said. “I know there are gonna be people who write articles saying, ‘Oh, the mayor [is being secretive].’ Doesn’t matter. We’re gonna follow the law.”

That’s a cop-out, pardon the pun.

The public should know more because Lightfoot’s firing of Johnson was an extraordinary move. She initially stood by him in the wake of the Oct, 17 occurrence, and even attended a Nov. 7 news conference where an emotion-filled Johnson announced he would retire at the end of 2019.

“Chicago is better because Superintendent Eddie Johnson calls our great city home,” Lightfoot said at the news conference, “and because he dedicated his life to serving it.”

But rather than let Johnson bow out quietly and easily at the end of the holiday-shortened month of December — then-interim Supt. Charlie Beck was already in place to smooth the transition — Lightfoot made Johnson walk the plank on Dec. 1, accusing the police boss of “lying to me and lying to the public” about the October incident.

“It has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of actions that are intolerable for any leader in a position of trust,” Lightfoot said then.

But she didn’t really elaborate. Was Johnson turned loose early on a mayoral whim or fit of pique — or is there something in the Ferguson report that compelled Lightfoot to terminate Johnson’s command?

The public deserves to see the report and better understand how we got here.

Was Johnson turned loose early on a mayoral whim or fit of pique — or is there something in the Ferguson report that compelled Lightfoot to terminate Johnson’s command? The public deserves to see the report and better understand how we got here.

Release the report

For the sake of openness and transparency, the Lightfoot administration could introduce an ordinance allowing release of the inspector general’s report — or as much of it as possible.

But that’s not likely to happen.

“We are not gonna cut and paste what our law is because the media is unhappy,” Lightfoot said. “We’re gonna do the right thing to make sure that we are transparent with the public. And the media is going to have to live within those boundaries.”

In addition to omitting Ferguson’s report, last week’s release of information about Johnson’s night out didn’t show the body camera video from a second officer on the scene. Why and what was on it? No police reports related to the incident were made public.

It isn’t just the media who has to live with this absence of information, but the everyday Chicagoan who has too often seen the connected, the privileged and the clouted live by a difference set of rules than the rest of us — and is weary of it.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Times has reported that sources say Ferguson may have found evidence of a cover-up by others in the police department.

Only one thing can answer these questions and remove the cloud from this whole situation: release Ferguson’s report.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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