CHICAGO (CBS) — Interim police Supt. Charlie Beck wasted no time Tuesday – bumping a district commander down to a captain.
And that might be just the beginning of the change in the wake of former Supt. Eddie Johnson’s termination on Monday.
As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported, sources said other high-ranking officers within the Chicago Police Department could also fall for their silence if they have direct knowledge of the October night when Johnson was found slumped behind the wheel of a sport-utility vehicle.
Johnson was found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV early on Oct. 17, after he said he had gone out for dinner with a group of friends the night before. Speaking before a Police Board meeting the evening after the incident, Johnson blamed the incident on a mix-up in which he failed to take his blood pressure medication, and a feeling that he might faint that prompted him to pull over and rest.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot later told the Sun-Times that Johnson had admitted to her in a phone call that he’d had “a couple of drinks with dinner” that night. Johnson announced on Nov. 7 that he would retire at the end of the year, but on Monday, Lightfoot fired him a month early – saying he lied about the October incident.
Lightfoot declined to go into specifics about what Johnson lied about, “out of deference to his wife and children,” but sources told CBS 2 Johnson had been out drinking with a woman who was not his wife hours before he was found asleep at the wheel.
Sources said the woman with whom Johnson had been drinking that night at Ceres Café, in the Board of Trade Building at 141 W. Jackson Blvd., is also a Chicago Police officer.
Sources also said 9th (Deering) District officers responded to the 911 call about finding Johnson asleep at the wheel in Bridgeport near his home. Johnson’s wife is a lieutenant in that district.
As to why others could take a fall, CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said, “You may have a situation where these officers were covering for the boss at the time.”
So far, four high-ranking officers have retired. CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Tuesday that Deputy Chief Dwayne Betts, Deputy Chief of Patrol George Devereux, Chief of Organized Crime Salvador Avila, and Commander of Airport Law Enforcement Thomas O’Brien have actually submitted retirement paperwork.
Sources tell CBS 2 that 16 others will soon do the same – including captains, commanders, lieutenants, and deputy chiefs. It was unclear if any of that was connected to the investigation into Johnson.
“A number of people are retiring in very important positions,” Beck said. “They will have to be replaced.”
Beck wasted no time Tuesday in making major changes, and there are more on the way.
Beck demoted Grand Central District Cmdr. Anthony Escamilla on Tuesday because, according to Guglielmi, he wanted to go in a different direction for leadership in the district.
“Commanders are appointed positions, so (Escamilla) will return to his rank of Captain,” Guglielmi wrote.
Escamilla was accused in an Inspector General’s report in January of having officers babysit his child for hours at the police station.
The IG’s office recommended that Escamilla be fired at the time. Johnson suspended Escamilla for just seven days.
“Some of the structural issues of CPD I’m still looking at, you know, and we’ll talk more about that later,” Beck said.
Meantime, Beck said he spoke with Johnson about the abrupt transition.
“None of us are perfect. Everybody makes mistakes,” Beck said, “but we have to live with that, and we have to live with our errors.”
Johnson made a statement through his newly-retained attorney, Thomas Needham.
“I acknowledge that I made a poor decision and had a lapse of judgment on the night of October 16. That was a mistake and I know that,” the statement said in part. “However I have no interest in fighting a battle for my reputation with those who want to question it now. Reputations are not built in a day and not damaged in a day either.”
Miller said it is no surprise that Johnson brought on a lawyer, since he could face the possibility of a misdemeanor driving under the influence charge based on the evidence presented in the Inspector General’s report.