Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she is “extremely unhappy” an internal report on the drinking-and-driving incident that prompted her to fire Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has not been released and blamed Inspector General Joe Ferguson for the delay.
“Look, I don’t control what the IG does. But I will say I’ve been extremely unhappy that it has been this long and we still don’t have an IG report,” the mayor said, after a news conference where she discussed progress made in bending the curve of new coronavirus cases.
“I had my team reach out just last week to say, `Where is it?’ So that’s a question for the IG. But it’s time to get that done so we can move forward.”
Ferguson’s spokesperson Natalie Kuriata refused to comment on the mayor’s remarks. Neither Johnson nor his attorney returned phone calls.
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.
Lightfoot said then she acted after seeing Ferguson’s preliminary report on the incident, in which Johnson was found slumped over the wheel of his police SUV, engine running, near his Bridgeport home.
The mayor refused to say what she learned in the preliminary report and from bodycam video of the incident that she didn’t already know when she told the Sun-Times in October that Johnson had been drinking that night.
She said only that the “facts I know now are fundamentally different than the facts I knew then.” Under repeated questioning, the mayor hinted strongly at some kind of a smoking gun that made the facts she already knew infinitely worse.
Noting Ferguson’s investigation “as to others involved” remains ongoing, the mayor added: “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. I hope we can all take care to treat them with dignity and respect.”
The Sun-Times has reported that, rather than having “a couple of drinks” during a “dinner with friends,” as Johnson told the mayor, 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.
After leaving Ceres Cafe in the Loop, Johnson drove his police SUV to police headquarters and dropped off the woman, sources said. He tried to drive to his Bridgeport home but was found asleep with the engine running around 12:30 a.m. in the 3400 block of South Aberdeen.
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.”
The mayor’s decision to publicly blame Ferguson for the six-month wait for his final report on the incident that got Johnson fired is both unusual and significant.
Ferguson and Lightfoot served together in the U.S. attorney’s office.
When he was appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009 to replace departing Inspector General David Hoffman, Lightfoot was among those who vouched for and recommended her friend Ferguson.
That close relationship has raised questions about just how independent Ferguson can be in a Lightfoot administration.
Last year, Ferguson acknowledged questions about his independence are legitimate, that they may become an issue when he starts digging into the Lightfoot administration and that he won’t hesitate to “pull the ripcord” if he thinks his friendship with the mayor poses a conflict.
Days before taking office, Lightfoot was asked whether she wanted Ferguson to serve out the two-and-a-half years remaining on his term. Her answer was an unqualified yes.
”He can only be removed for cause. I see no basis to do that. And he’s involved in a lot of important work in the city. I have a lot of confidence in him and his office,” Lightfoot said then.
”I do not think he has a conflict. The fact that I’ve known Joe for a long time has never impeded his ability to do his job. I don’t expect it’s going to. He’s a person of integrity and I know his office is staffed with lots of people who are professionals and they’re gonna do their job. They’re gonna call balls and strikes.”