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Top cop Johnson had 10 drinks before falling asleep behind the wheel, was allowed to drive home without a field sobriety test: watchdog

A year after the incident that caused Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s downfall, Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s long-awaited report details an elaborate police cover-up by seven of the fired superintendent’s underlings.

Bodycam video from Chicago police officers who approached former Supt. Eddie Johnson when he fell asleep behind the wheel. 
Bodycam video from Chicago police officers who approached former Supt. Eddie Johnson when he fell asleep behind the wheel. 
Chicago police

Fired Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson consumed the “equivalent of 10 alcoholic beverages” on the night he was found asleep in his running police SUV, then received favored treatment from seven of his underlings, the inspector general said Friday.

A year after the incident that caused Johnson’s downfall, Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s long-awaited report details an elaborate police cover-up by seven of the fired superintendent’s underlings.

The alleged wrongdoing started with the two probationary officers who responded to the scene at 34th Place and Aberdeen Street and failed to “gather the evidence necessary to determine whether the superintendent was fit to drive his vehicle.”

They failed to administer the field sobriety test that would have been required for any other motorist and instead took the superintendent’s word for it that he was fit to drive home after Johnson had rolled down his driver’s window by only two inches.

Police Supt. David Brown suspended both officers for one day.

Two additional responding officers were accused of allowing Johnson to drive his vehicle home “knowing he was unfit to drive.” One of those officers told Ferguson’s investigators that, “The superintendent looked normal.”

“They decided to follow the superintendent’s vehicle to his home, apparently out of concern that he would not get home safely,” Ferguson wrote.

“By allowing the superintendent to drive home, despite concern for his condition, the officers failed to promote CPD’s goal of protecting the public and brought discredit on CPD, specifically, because their actions created the impression of giving the superintendent preferential treatment.”

Those two officers were each suspended for seven days.

A sergeant who also responded to the scene was held responsible for having “allowed the superintendent to drive home, knowing he was unfit to drive.” The report notes Johnson, “upon leaving 34th and Aberdeen, traveled in the wrong direction away from his residence.”

In an interview with Ferguson’s investigators, the sergeant claimed he was “concerned about the superintendent’s condition, given his medical history.” Brown suspended the sergeant for 14 days.

Ferguson’s report argued the most egregious violations were committed by a lieutenant and by Deering District Cmdr. Don Jerome, a 26-year veteran of the department.

The lieutenant was accused of holding up his cellphone to a computer screen and making a recording of bodycam video of the drinking-and-driving incident. The lieutenant then texted the cellphone video to Jerome.

In an interview with Ferguson’s investigators, the lieutenant denied having made the recording and sending it to Jerome. According to Ferguson, that was a violation of CPD Rule 14 — commonly known as you-lie-and-you-die rule — that should have prompted CPD to fire the lieutenant.

Instead, Brown opted to suspend the lieutenant for 21 days.

Jerome was slapped with a 28-day suspension for having “failed to report the lieutenant’s policy violation in creating an unauthorized recording of the body-worn camera footage.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Johnson Dec. 1 after accusing the police superintendent she inherited of “lying to me and lying to the public” about the circumstances surrounding the Oct. 17 incident.

He was forced to retire a month earlier than planned by a mayor who had celebrated his retirement and praised his overall performance just weeks before.

Instead of having a “few drinks with friends,” as Johnson initially told the mayor, he spent hours drinking with his female driver Cynthia Donald at Ceres Café, a downtown bar notorious for its heavy pours.

Johnson then dropped off Donald at police headquarters around 10:30 p.m.; she got into her police vehicle and drove herself home.

Donald was suspended for seven days. Earlier this week, she filed a lawsuit against Johnson and the city, claiming the fired superintendent subjected her to more than three years of sexual assault and harassment. She accused Johnson of repeatedly raping her in his office at police headquarters. Johnson emphatically denied the allegations.

Ferguson’s report includes the most detailed account yet of just how much alcohol Johnson consumed that fateful night.

“While the CPD members on the scene could not have known at the time that the superintendent had consumed the equivalent of approximately 10 alcoholic beverages, the evidence shows that the superintendent had done so, and not a single member detected any signs of impairment or pursued a number of routine investigative steps likely to reveal evidence of alcohol impairment,” the report states.

In mid-April, Lightfoot said she was “extremely unhappy” an internal report on the drinking-and-driving incident that prompted her to fire Johnson had not been released and blamed Ferguson for the delay.

Sources said Friday that within weeks of the mayor’s complaint, Ferguson’s final report on the alleged police cover-up was in the hands of the Chicago Police Department.

CPD had 30 days to respond. That means the circumstances surrounding the alleged cover-up should have been included in the inspector general’s second quarterly report, which came out in July.

But sources said the Police Department asked for additional time, delaying the release of Ferguson’s report. And the seven officers involved were not notified of their punishments until this week.

In an emailed statement, CPD spokesman Don Terry said the department requested extra time from the OIG due to “the significant amount of material from the OIG’s investigation that needed to be reviewed.”

The request for more time came as the department grappled with widespread civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic. Officers in the CPD’s Legal Affairs Division, Terry said, were temporarily reassigned to help quell the unrest, further delaying the CPD’s review of the OIG’s report.

And though the seven officers who face discipline for their roles in the cover-up were only told of their punishments this week, Terry said each officer has 10 days to accept Brown’s decision or file a grievance and, effectively, appeal the decision.