Multiple CPD employees under investigation for allegedly covering up Eddie Johnson’s indiscretions
The alleged cover-up took place “that night and the next day” and could end up being “even worse than” the incident itself, said a source familiar with the investigation.
Multiple Chicago police employees are under investigation for allegedly engaging in a widespread cover-up to protect then-Supt. Eddie Johnson and conceal the circumstances surrounding an Oct. 17 drinking and driving incident that Mayor Lori Lightfoot says Johnson lied about, prompting her to fire him weeks before his retirement.
Johnson was found slumped over in his police SUV at around 12:30 a.m. that day, near the 3400 block of South Aberdeen — after dismissing his driver and trying to drive himself home.
The alleged cover-up took place “that night and the next day” and could end up being “even worse than” the incident itself, said a source familiar with Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s ongoing investigation.
That’s saying something, considering new details obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Not just ‘dinner with friends’
Rather than having “a couple of drinks” during a “dinner with friends,” as Johnson told the mayor, sources said the now-former superintendent spent three hours drinking at Ceres Cafe — a restaurant known for pouring large drinks to patrons from the nearby Chicago Board of Trade — with a woman whom he had promoted to his security detail shortly after becoming the city’s top cop.
Sources said Johnson and the woman, who has since been reassigned to another job in the police department, are seen on restaurant video kissing repeatedly.
The woman has been interviewed by the inspector general’s office. Sources said she acknowledged drinking with Johnson for hours before Johnson was found in his SUV. But she also said they only were friends.
The woman also told investigators that both she and Johnson have troubled marriages and that they frequently talk to each other. Records show she filed for divorce from her husband in 2018. She did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Johnson has not been questioned by the inspector general as part of the investigation. Sources said he put off at least two attempts to interview him.
Johnson has declined to comment to the Sun-Times. In a prepared statement to all news media, he said he did not “intentionally mislead or deceive the mayor or the people” of Chicago.
“I acknowledge that I made a poor decision and had a lapse of judgement on the night of Oct. 16. That was a mistake and I know that. However, I have no interest in fighting a battle for my reputation with those that want to question it now,” Johnson is quoted as saying. “Reputations are not built in a day and not damaged in a day, either. They are the result of years of living. We reap what we sow in this world. I will simply rely on the reputation for integrity that I think I have earned during my long career with the faith that we should all be judged by the entirety of our lives and not on what happened on our worst days.”
Johnson lawyer speaks out
Johnson’s attorney, Thomas Needham disputed that Johnson put off appointments to speak with the inspector general’s office.
“That’s not true,” he told the Sun-Times.
Needham said the inspector general’s office contacted him on the morning of Nov. 7, the day Johnson announced his retirement and asked for Johnson to give a statement that night at 6 p.m. “We declined because we did not think that was reasonable,” Needham said.
Needham said he and the inspector general’s office went back and forth on scheduling an interview.
“We were totally cooperative. I gave them Friday, Dec. 6, and Friday, Dec. 13. Those were open days. The response was ‘No, that’s too late for us because we will be done with our investigation.’ I said ‘I hope your investigation notes that we were not evading you,’” Needham said.
Needham also said he informed investigators that Johnson was at Ceres before the incident in his car.
Needham declined to talk to the Sun-Times about what happened at Ceres.
“I have not seen the video. I have no comment on that,” Needham said.
Multiple restaurants involved
Johnson’s visit was discussed at length Tuesday at Ceres Cafe, where one bar regular, Alex, who declined to give his last name, said he saw Johnson seated in a booth on the north wall on the night in question.
A security guard in the Board of Trade building, where Ceres is located, said security footage of Johnson arriving and leaving had been subpoenaed by Ferguson’s office.
Sources told the Sun-Times that, along with Ceres Cafe, Johnson also visited Volare, an Italian restaurant in Streeterville.
The owner of Volare, Benny Siddu, declined to comment on Johnson’s visit, citing advice of his attorney.
At some point later that evening, Johnson got behind the wheel of his police SUV and drove to police headquarters, where he dropped off the woman, sources said.
He then attempted to drive to his Bridgeport home but was apparently unable to continue.
Both police and Chicago Fire Department personnel responded to a 911 call of a parked vehicle near 34th Place and Aberdeen Street. The SUV had the engine running with Johnson fast asleep inside for quite a while before police and the fire department responded, sources said.
Bodycam and dashcam video of the police response show officers engaging in conversation with Johnson, but only briefly after the superintendent displays his badge, sources said.
Responding officers essentially asked the top cop, “Are you OK?” When Johnson replied, “I’m OK,” the officers can be heard telling him to have a good night.
Johnson was then allowed to drive home without a sobriety test that would normally be required for any other motorist found in a similar situation.
Johnson initially blamed a change in his blood pressure medication and his failure to fill the replacement prescription.
But the mayor accused him of concocting a false narrative to conceal the embarrassing circumstances surrounding the incident, then “lying” to her when she questioned his version of events.
While investigating the failure to administer the sobriety test and whether rules were bent to protect the boss, sources said Ferguson found evidence of a cover-up by others in the police department. Freedom of Information requests for bodycam video of the incident have been denied pending the outcome of Ferguson’s investigation.
Still on payroll, but not as superintendent
Although he has been fired as Chicago’s $260,044-a-year police superintendent, Johnson is not yet off the police payroll. He has returned to his career service rank of lieutenant.
The question now is whether he will be allowed to remain in that position or whether the mayor will demand his resignation — or move to fire him if he refuses to quit.
In announcing Johnson’s termination on Monday, Lightfoot said Ferguson’s investigation “as to others” involved in the incident remains ongoing. “While at some point, the inspector general’s report may become public and those details may be revealed, I don’t think it’s appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson’s wife or children to do so at this time,” she said.
During a news conference at police headquarters Tuesday to announce gun and drug arrests, Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck was asked to comment on the allegations that Johnson was seen drinking for hours with a woman.
“None of us are perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. But we have to live with that. We have to live with our errors,” Beck said.
“Two things are important to me in policing. Well, actually three things. One is public trust. One is police accountability. And the third is police effectiveness.”
Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout, Mitch Dudek, Lauren FitzPatrick, Michael Sneed and Tim Novak