Top cop Johnson has lost public trust after role in Laquan McDonald shooting probe revealed, black aldermen say

“He should not be able to keep his job because of this. He knew,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor said Thursday.

SHARE Top cop Johnson has lost public trust after role in Laquan McDonald shooting probe revealed, black aldermen say
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson at a recent City Hall news conference.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson at a recent City Hall news conference.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago’s African American community will have trouble trusting CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson now that it’s known Johnson saw the Laquan McDonald shooting video before it was publicly released and was among the police brass who believed the shooting was justified.

That’s the bottom line from influential black aldermen, who urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday to take Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigative report into consideration when she decides whether to permanently retain the superintendent she inherited.

Ferguson’s long-awaited report, released this week, placed Johnson, then a deputy chief, at a meeting of police brass held “on or around” Nov. 1, 2015.

The explosive video was played; it showed now-convicted police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into the body of the black teenager as McDonald was walking away from the officer with a knife in his hand.

“Everyone in the meeting agreed the shooting was justified and that Van Dyke ‘used the force necessary to eliminate the threat,’” Ferguson’s report states, quoting Lt. Ozzie Valdez.

For years, unconfirmed reports have circulated about Johnson’s involvement in that meeting. Now that there is definitive proof, African American aldermen are incensed.

“He should not be able to keep his job because of this. He knew. This is another way that our communities feel like we can’t trust the people who are supposed to protect us,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said Thursday.

Taylor branded Johnson “a liar.” She accused him of being a go-along, get-along participant at a meeting held by police brass “to get their lie together.” She did not hesitate when asked what Johnson should have said or done during that meeting.

“The right thing. Not sign off,” she said.

“This is a slap in the face to folks in our communities. While we’re trying to mend these relationships we have with the police, this does not help. It’s like one step forward and 20 steps back.”

The mayor’s office refused to say if Ferguson’s report would play a role as Lightfoot decides whether Johnson can keep his $260,044-a-year job until next spring, when he will be fully vested in his superintendent’s pension.

Taping the WLS-AM radio program “Connected to Chicago,” Lightfoot talked, instead, about the operational changes she is “pushing, pushing, pushing” Johnson to make — changes he has “not been called upon to do before.”

She added that there are “some tough decisions that have to be made around the organization of the department personnel. ... I think he’s up to the challenge. But time will tell.”

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi downplayed Johnson’s role at the meeting.

“At the time, Supt. Johnson was the Deputy Chief of Area Central and not in any position to comment or object on the incident,” Guglielmi wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“The entire tenure of his administration has been built on reforms to the police department and re-centering everything we do around community policing, transparency and equity.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) agreed with his colleagues that Johnson “should have spoken up” at the meeting, even if he would have been the only one in the room to do so.

“That was a very difficult time for the city. And we still have to heal from it. If there was information the police superintendent knew at the time and didn’t speak about it and didn’t release it, he was wrong for that,” Taliaferro said.

In deciding Johnson’s fate, “the mayor has to weigh everything — his successes, his failures,” Taliaferro said.

“It’ll be difficult,” for Johnson now, he added. “Once you lose trust … of the residents that you serve, it’s hard to get that back.”

License Committee Chairman Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) added: “If I was in that position, I would have had to say something about that because I have to sleep with myself at night.”

Education Committee Chairman Michael Scott Jr. (24th) said Johnson has “talked a lot about the culture that existed in CPD and how he’s never seen any of the underbelly. ... That’s kind of contrary to what this report presents,” Scott said.

In other CPD matters Lightfoot discussed in the WLS interview, to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday, she said the department has “too many people at headquarters doing jobs that could be done by civilians.”

She added: “I want to make sure that our district commanders in particular have every resource that they need to be successful. … I don’t want them to have to beg, borrow and steal for more resources, particularly over the course of the summer or a weekend or any time,” she said.

“We’ve got a plethora of specialized units. … Some of those people need to be back in the districts.”

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