CHICAGO (CBS) — Former police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Tuesday acknowledged he “made a poor decision and had a lapse of judgment” when police officers found him slumped over in his vehicle, but denied that he misled the mayor over his actions.
“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.
“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,” he said in a statement, issued by Johnson’s attorney, Thomas Needham.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Johnson on Monday, saying “repeatedly lied to me” about the circumstances of being found slumped behind the wheel of his vehicle on Oct. 17.
“It has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of actions that are intolerable for any leader in a position of trust,” she said.
Johnson was preparing to retire at the end of the month, and at the time he and the mayor announced his retirement, both insisted the move had nothing to do with an inspector general’s investigation of the October incident.
However, on Monday, Lightfoot announced a review of the inspector general’s report made it clear Johnson had lied to her and the public, leaving her no choice but to fire him for cause.
In his statement, Johnson insisted he never misled anyone.
“One thing I want people to know is this: I did not intentionally mislead or deceive the Mayor of the people of Chicago,” Johnson said.
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.
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. However, the superintendent made no mention of drinking when he spoke about the incident publicly, and officers who responded to the scene of the incident did not perform a sobriety test on Johnson.
While Lightfoot did not elaborate on how Johnson lied about the incident, she was visibly furious as she announced that she was firing him.
“A lie is a lie,” Lightfoot said Monday. “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 members of the public.”
“I am of course disappointed that I could not finish my career on January 1, as originally planned,” Johnson said. “However, I respect yesterday’s decision of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Any police superintendent serves at the discretion of the mayor; that’s how it is and that’s how it should be.”
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 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.
The matter remained under investigation on Tuesday, with the mayor acknowledging other officers’ conduct that night is part of it.
Needham’s office said neither he nor Johnson would be speaking beyond the written statement.
Needham, Johnson’s attorney, was once a policy adviser for Mayor Richard M. Daley. He also later served as general counsel and then chief of staff to former Police Supt. Terry Hillard.
Needham’s background is in criminal defense, and CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said Johnson has a reason to hire a criminal defense attorney.
“He has legal issues at this point in time. His immediate legal issue is whether or not he should either continue to cooperate with the inspector general, or begin cooperating with the inspector general if he hasn’t already,” Miller said.
Miller said Johnson could be facing charges of driving under the influence for that night.
“You don’t have to give blood, or you don’t have to give urine. You don’t have to walk the straight line. If the evidence shows that he was impaired – and that’s the magic word – and he drove a car, that’s a DUI,” Miller said.
Miller said the evidence could come from video observations from responding officers and supervisors. All of that is likely part of the ongoing inspector general investigation.