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Lightfoot denies she fired Eddie Johnson to make the case for an outsider as top cop

The mayor said Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham is “dead wrong on that.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers even more questions about her decision to fire Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday after a news conference on winter preparedness at the city’s 911 emergency center.
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham is “dead wrong” when he claims Eddie Johnson was fired to make the case for an outsider as Chicago’s permanent police superintendent.

Lightfoot fired back one day after Graham accused the mayor of jumping the gun — and violating due process — by firing Johnson before the inspector general had heard the now-former superintendent’s side of the drinking-and driving story.

“The superintendent — like all commissioners — serves at the will of the mayor. We’ve had repeated conversations, Mr. Johnson and I, about the incidents of that night. I read the inspector general’s reports and read the underlying evidence and made a determination that I needed to make a change. And that’s precisely what I did,” the mayor said Thursday.

“I can remove commissioners for or without cause. And Kevin Graham is dead wrong on that. ... That’s not what Kevin Graham told me when I called him on Monday to give him a heads-up. And that’s clearly not the case.”

The mayor was asked again whether she was trying to make the case for hiring an outsider or whether the mid-October incident that culminated in Johnson being found slumped over in his police SUV made the case for her.

“That’s silly. That’s not what this was about. This was about a specific set of facts and circumstances related to a particular individual and that’s on the basis that I made my decision,” said Lightfoot, who has already gone outside in choosing former Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck as Johnson’s interim replacement.

On Monday, Lightfoot fired Johnson after accusing him of “lying to me and lying to the public” about the circumstances surrounding the incident Oct. 17.

Rather than having “a couple of drinks” during a “dinner with friends,” as Johnson told the mayor, sources said he spent three hours drinking at a restaurant known for serving tall drinks with a woman whom he had promoted to his security detail shortly after becoming superintendent.

Sources said the woman, who has since been reassigned, is seen on restaurant video repeatedly kissing Johnson.

After leaving Ceres Café, Johnson got behind the wheel of his police SUV and drove to police headquarters, where he dropped off the woman, sources said.

Johnson then attempted to drive to his Bridgeport home. He was found asleep with the engine running around 12:30 a.m. near the 3400 block of South Aberdeen.

Police and Chicago Fire Department personnel who responded after a 911 call allowed the superintendent to drive himself home.

The Sun-Times has reported that multiple police employees are under investigation for allegedly engaging in a cover-up to protect Johnson and conceal the circumstances surrounding the incident.

On Thursday, Lightfoot wouldn’t say if she believes there was a cover-up to protect Johnson or whether Johnson “got a pass” when responding officers allowed him to drive himself home without administering a field sobriety test.

The mayor would only say she would await the outcome of Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation before deciding whether more disciplinary action is needed and whether all or part of that report will be made public.

“The IG’s investigations are thorough. He will call balls and strikes. And once that investigation is over, we will make sure that we do a full review of the report that he provides to us and actions that he recommends will be given serious consideration,” she said.

“But it’s way too premature for us to be speculating about who, about what. Whether there’s gonna be actions taken. Let’s let the IG do the work. And then, we’ll have an opportunity to review it and let the chips fall where they may.”

In a statement issued the day after his firing, Johnson said he did “not intentionally mislead or deceive the mayor or the people of Chicago.”

Lightfoot was asked whether she believes the now-former superintendent was “lying again” when he made that statement.

“Obviously I took the action that I took based upon conversations that I’ve had with him about that evening and then getting a fuller frame of the facts from the inspector general’s report. But at this point, Superintendent Johnson is no longer the superintendent, no longer a member of the police department. It’s really time for us to move on,” the mayor said.