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Wife of Chicago’s top cop files complaint accusing CPD of discrimination

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lt. Nakia Fenner and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

Lt. Nakia Fenner (center), joined by then-interim Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, shakes hands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a CPD promotion ceremony. | Kelly Bauer photo

A lieutenant married to Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming she was denied a promotion by her husband’s department because she’s a victim of discrimination.

Details of Nakia Fenner’s EEOC complaint weren’t available, including whether she’s accusing her own husband of discrimination. But the superintendent signs off on all promotions to commander.

The EEOC “will not disclose to the public charges of employment discrimination” or any other case material prior to issuing a decision, according to its website. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.

The police department released a statement Thursday saying: “Late last week, CPD received an EEOC complaint from Lt. Nakia Fenner alleging discriminatory practices within CPD’s promotional process. The department is committed to ensure they are evaluated and investigated independently and fairly.”

Fenner works as a lieutenant in the Deering District in the 3100 block of South Halsted. She couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sources told the Sun-Times that Fenner’s complaint doesn’t appear to have strained her marriage with Johnson. They were hitched in September after Johnson received a kidney transplant.

If Johnson feared that promoting his wife would fuel nepotism charges, then an EEOC complaint that compelled the superintendent to promote Fenner would be a way to get around those allegations.

Normally, the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs would look into an EEOC complaint against the police department. But to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Johnson has referred Fenner’s complaint to the city’s Office of Inspector General and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Lt. Nakia Fenner at a Chicago Police Department promotion ceremony. | Kelly Bauer photo

It’s not the first time Fenner’s actions have stirred controversy.

In January 2017, Johnson asked city Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate allegations that Fenner might have intervened to help her son following a traffic stop. The status of that investigation is unclear.

Six months later, Ferguson said he couldn’t substantiate claims of cheating that allegedly benefited Fenner and two other women on the 2015 lieutenants’ exam. But he did find that “historically based perceptions of preferential treatment . . . could be mitigated” with more rigorous controls throughout the promotional process.

Ferguson’s ruling cleared Fenner, who was then Johnson’s fiancée; Lt. Maryet Hall, the wife of former First Deputy Supt. Al Wysinger, and Lt. Davina Ward.

Deputy Supt. Eugene Williams also was cleared of helping to rig the exam in favor of the women. He was in a position to assist the women because he was a subject matter expert who helped develop the exam and was the “final reviewer of potential exam content.” He’s since retired.

The three women were among 26 sergeants promoted after doing well on the test. Hall had the top score. Fenner finished 17th and Ward was 24th.

The cheating allegations surfaced shortly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel did an end-run around the Chicago Police Board and chose Johnson, who didn’t apply for the superintendent’s job.

The allegations raised questions about how closely Johnson was vetted before he was chosen to replace police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

At the time, Emanuel bristled at the allegations involving Fenner. The mayor said the cheating allegations were part of a “game” that used “innuendo” to “besmirch people’s character.”

In a blistering report on the Chicago Police Department, the Justice Department discussed Ferguson’s investigation of Fenner and the others and devoted a section to the police department’s much-criticized promotion process.

“In addition to litigation concerning the tests’ discriminatory impact, promotional exams also have been tainted with allegations of cheating and cronyism in the exam’s preparations or administration,” the report states.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Hosea Word has filed a federal lawsuit that points to the DOJ report. He claims he was bypassed for promotion because of the alleged cheating on the lieutenants’ exam.

“When unqualified or under-qualified persons are promoted to higher ranks within the CPD, those persons are more likely to authorize or condone the use of excessive force against civilians and are not as knowledgeable or capable of employing or instructing others on de-escalation,” says the lawsuit, which is pending.

The lawsuit claims the “wives and girlfriends” of Johnson, Wysinger and Williams “did not score in the top tier” of the 2006 lieutenants’ exam and that Wysinger’s wife was ranked 280 out of 700.