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Facing firing, Chicago’s controversial police union boss formally retires from CPD

FOP President John Catanzara was accused of a string of departmental rule violations, including making a series of obscene and inflammatory social media posts.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to reporters Monday as he walks out of a Chicago Police Board hearing in the Loop.
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to reporters Monday as he walks out of a Chicago Police Board hearing in the Loop.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

John Catanzara, the controversial president of Chicago’s largest police union, formally retired from the city’s police force Tuesday morning, effectively ending a lengthy disciplinary case that could have resulted in his firing.

During a hearing Tuesday morning, Catanzara’s attorney, Tim Grace, said his client had formally resigned hours earlier.

The move came a day after Catanzara announced his intention to call it quits during the first hearing in his disciplinary case. He was accused of a string of departmental rule violations, including making a series of obscene and inflammatory social media posts and generating false reports against superior officers, most notably former Supt. Eddie Johnson.

Lauren Freeman, the hearing officer overseeing the case, suspended the proceedings after Catanzara’s curveball and announced they would resume Tuesday morning.

Jim Lydon, an attorney for the Chicago Police Department, acknowledged he had received the resignation paperwork Tuesday and moved to withdraw the list of charges without prejudice, meaning they could potentially be brought again. Catanzara wasn’t present for the hearing, which was held via teleconference.

Max Caproni, the executive director of the police board, said the police board will likely consider Lydon’s oral motion to drop the charges during its meeting Thursday.

Following Monday’s hearing, Catanzara revealed to reporters that he now plans to run for mayor as he took shots at Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with who he has repeatedly butted heads. He previously teased a mayoral campaign in a YouTube video last month, flashing a poster that signaled his intention to run in 2023.

“We are at a precipice of a decision here as far as the city is concerned,” Catanzara said in a separate YouTube video Monday night. “It’s a tipping point, and I just don’t think we can wait any longer to push back and get this miserable mayor out of office as soon as humanly possible.”

Meanwhile, Catanzara told the Sun-Times he plans to stay on as head of the union that represents over 17,000 current and former rank-and-file officers. The union’s bylaws allow for elected positions to be held by retired cops who are collecting their pensions.

In a statement Tuesday, Lightfoot lambasted Catanzara as a “man of hate” who was dodging accountability for his actions.

“The evidence of his guilt was overwhelming as set forth in the hearing and he clearly sought to avoid the eventual reckoning by resigning under investigation and then divesting the Police Board of jurisdiction,” she said. “Our police department must be populated by officers who work hard every day to embrace their oath to serve and protect, work to form meaningful relationships with community members, and embrace constitutional policing as the only path forward.”

Over the course of Catanzara’s nearly 27-year career as a police officer, he faced firing two other times but was cleared by the police board in both cases.

He was also the subject of at least 50 civilian complaints, more than 96% of other officers, according to records obtained by the Invisible Institute. Ten were sustained, and he was disciplined nine times. In total, he was suspended from duty for 131 days.

But as he faced dismissal a third time, Catanzara struck a defiant and combative tone.

During his testimony, he defended making a series of inflammatory social media posts stretching back years that city lawyers said “clearly reflect poorly upon the [police] department.” Some disparaged Muslims and people who receive public aid, the city lawyers claimed, while others were homophobic, insubordinate and political in nature.

Though Catanzara’s attorneys acknowledged his comments were at times “vulgar” and “unsettling,” they insisted the posts were “protected First Amendment speech.”

Much of Monday’s hearing focused on allegations stemming from Catanzara’s decision to improperly file police reports in 2018 naming ex-Supt. Eddie Johnson and his former commander in the Chicago Lawn District, Ronald Pontecore. His attorneys, in turn, sought to frame him as “a classic whistleblower” whose complaints about high-ranking officers were ignored.

Catanzara’s stature grew significantly when he was elected president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 in May 2020. Former President Donald Trump, who Catanzara has championed, even touted his victory on Twitter.

His support for Trump has landed him in hot water, though. In January, Catanzara faced calls for his resignation when he defended the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Trump.

On Tuesday, Catanzara took a not-so-veiled shot at Biden in his retirement paperwork, which he posted to Facebook.

“Let’s go BRANDON,” he wrote.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara on Tuesday posted his retirement paperwork to Facebook.