Chicago Police Union Celebrates Chief's Firing, Calls for Broader Reforms
On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Police Chief Eddie Johnson mere weeks before he was set to retire. She said she fired him after he intentionally lied following an incident where he was found asleep behind the wheel of his car on October 17. Lightfoot has had a shaky relationship with the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), but the police union praised the firing and urged Lightfoot to make further reforms to the administrations that oversee the police force.
"Upon a thorough review of the materials of the Inspector General's ongoing investigation, it has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of ethical lapses that are intolerable," Lightfoot said in a statement about Johnson's firing. "Eddie Johnson intentionally lied to me several times even when I challenged him about the narrative that he shared with me. He maintained that he was telling the truth. I now know definitively that he was not."
Chicago police said a driver had called 911 to report Johnson asleep in his car on October 17. While police did not administer a breathalyzer at the scene, Lightfoot said Johnson later told her he had "a couple of drinks with dinner" before the incident.
He announced his retirement shortly afterward.
Lightfoot appeared supportive at the time. "These stars can sometimes feel like carrying the weight of the world," she said.
On Monday, however, the mayor excoriated the former police chief for misleading the residents of Chicago and letting the police department down. She did not give specifics about how Johnson lost her trust, explaining, "I don't feel like it is appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson's wife or children to do so at this time."
After examining the inspector general's report and videotape evidence, Lightfoot said her hands were tied. "There's no gray area here," she said. "A lie is a lie. He told me something that happened that night that turned out to be fundamentally different than what he portrayed to me and what he portrayed to the members of the public."
The mayor added that officers "deserve a leader who they can believe in." She expressed her confidence in former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Johnson's replacement.
Last month, Johnson decided to skip out on President Donald Trump's speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It seems the firing had nothing to do with this stunt.
The FOP, often at odds with Lightfoot, agreed with her decision and urged further reform.
"We understand Mayor Lightfoot’s decision in this case," Martin Preib, FOP second vice president, told PJ Media on Monday. "We also appreciate her desire to create a police department that is accountable and transparent. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that just this weekend, the department stripped an officer who was the victim of a high-risk battery without any investigation and without even taking a statement from the officer."
Prieb was referring to a Thanksgiving Day arrest in which police stopped 29-year-old Bernard Kersh for drinking alcohol in public. Kersh reportedly became abusive toward police and threatened and spat on them. The police response — a physical takedown — was recorded on video, but the initial altercation was not. The department assigned the officer responsible for the takedown to desk duty pending a use-of-force investigation by the Chicago Office of Police Accountability (COPA).
Kersh faces misdemeanor charges of resisting police, simple assault, and drinking alcohol in public. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. bailed him out of jail.
Lamenting the effective demotion of the police officer and the department's seeming refusal to hear his or her side of the story, Prieb insisted, "It is also important to hold every facet of the city affecting the police department accountable, including COPA, the Chicago Police Board, and Inspector General. We look forward to assisting the mayor in helping to make all these institutions equally accountable."
This FOP statement seems remarkable coming a few months after Lightfoot denounced an FOP leader as a "clown." When Lightfoot became mayor in May, she announced her desire to put the Jussie Smollett affair behind her. At the time, Prieb told PJ Media that it is "disappointing" that "Mayor Lori Lightfoot wanted to turn the page on [Smollett], yet she is always demanding accountability and transparency for the police."
Prieb also excoriated State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx, whose office exonerated Smollett after he was charged with 16 felony counts regarding his hate crime hoax.
"Here's the thing about the Foxx administration. Here's the story that's getting buried. Kimberly Foxx was supported heavily in her campaign by several law firms that make their living off of suing the police. She won, turns around, and lets all their clients out of prison to file million-dollar lawsuits," the FOP vice president said.
Preib has long drawn attention to Foxx's record of reversing felony convictions for confessed murderers and rapists. Foxx vacated two felony convictions for high-ranking Spanish Cobra gang member Ricardo Rodriguez in February. Eliminating the 20-year-old convictions paves the way for Rodriguez to avoid deportation and remain in the country, FOP representatives argued.
Arturo DeLeon-Reyes and Gabriel Solache confessed to stabbing Mariano and Jacinta Soto, murdering them and kidnapping their children. Yet Solache and DeLeon-Reyes claimed, like so many convicts, that they were victims of police misconduct, even though they pleaded guilty and confessed to the murders. The two were later released after Foxx's office granted immunity to a police officer who testified against the department.
Prieb also noted that one of the attorneys for Smollett, Patricia Brown Holmes, also prosecuted three Chicago police officers for an alleged conspiracy against 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Foxx relentlessly attacked her predecessor, Anita Alvarez, for failing to charge the police involved, even though the officers were later acquitted.
Chicago is in dire need of reform, and the FOP is right to urge Lightfoot in this direction.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.