Report on drinking and driving incident that got Eddie Johnson fired to remain under wraps
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the ordinance she pushed through the City Council in September 2019 allows the release of inspector general reports only when a matter of compelling public interest involves a death or a felony.
Despite media demands to make it public, Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s final report on the Oct. 17 drinking and driving incident that got former CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson fired will remain under wraps, a defiant Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday.
Lightfoot said the ordinance she pushed through the City Council in September empowers Chicago’s corporation counsel to release Ferguson’s reports only when they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”
The mayor acknowledged Johnson’s actions absolutely measure up on the “compelling public interest” front. But neither he nor the responding officers who allowed the superintendent to drive home without administering a sobriety test committed a felony.
Therefore, Ferguson’s report will remain secret. It will not be released no matter how loud or how often the media whines, the mayor said.
“The law does not allow us to do that. I know there’s been a lot of chatter among the media that is anxious to dive into the reports. But look at what the statute says,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot said she has looked at the ordinance “20 ways from Sunday” and the law is clear. She and the attorneys around her “value our law licenses and we are gonna follow the law.”
“We put out what we can put out. We’ll put out some additional materials. But there’s nothing under the law that allows us … to put out the reports of the inspector general,” the mayor said.
“I know that makes people unhappy. I know there are gonna be people who write articles saying, ‘Oh, the mayor [is being secretive].’ Doesn’t matter. We’re gonna follow the law.”
Why not change the ordinance to allow for release of the long-awaited report?
“We are not gonna cut-and-paste what our law is because the media is unhappy. We’re gonna do the right thing to make sure that we are transparent with the public. And the media is going to have to live within those boundaries,” she said.
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.
Earlier this week, the city released a trove of documents and footage related to what police reports called the “high-profile” incident.
Among the materials released was bodycam video from one of the officers who discovered Johnson in his SUV near 34th Place and Aberdeen shortly after midnight on Oct. 17, 2019.
Two officers are shown walking up to Johnson’s SUV, one on each side. Johnson can be seen in the driver’s seat with his eyes closed. One officer shines a flashlight inside.
The officer knocked on the window, saying: “Sir? Sir? You all right? You good? Got your ID?”
After a long wait, Johnson pulls out some form of identification and holds it up to the window.
The officer who knocked on the window then asks: “You just sitting here, or you wanna go home?” Johnson replies: “I’m good.” The officer then says: “You good? All right, sir. Have a good night.”
The officer then walks away and turns off his camera without making Johnson undergo any field sobriety tests.
Though the city only released a single video of the incident, sources said several exist. Sources said they show Johnson drinking at Ceres Café with a woman who is not his wife, driving making wide turns, and arriving home, followed by officers who help walk him into his home.
That’s apparently what Lightfoot was talking about when she promised to release “additional materials.”