CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago Police officer who was once assigned as former Supt. Eddie Johnson’s driver is suing him for sexual assault and harassment, accusing him of years of “shockingly violent, abusive, and harassing conduct.”
In a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Officer Cynthia Donald claims Johnson subjected her to “unwanted and uninvited sexual advances, abuse, harassment, and a hostile work environment” for more than three years.
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In a statement late Thursday, Johnson said the acts the officer alleged “never happened.”
Donald, a 14-year veteran of the department, said she hopes by coming forward that other women who have survived sexual assault and harassment by Johnson and other male police officers will speak out.
“This is a courageous act by Cynthia. What makes matters worse in Cynthia’s case is that her abuse was at the hands of organizations and individuals who were sworn to protect her, who were sworn to serve and protect our community,” said her attorney, Steven Hart, at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Donald said the city and Chicago Police Department need to be held accountable to what happened to her, and what likely has happened to many other female officers.
“I am calling on Mayor Lightfoot and Supt. David Brown to address the long-standing problem of sexual misconduct within CPD, and the boys’ club culture that enables abusers, and promotes a code of silence,” Donald said.
Her attorneys said approximately half a dozen high-ranking officers at CPD knew about Johnson’s relationship with Donald, though they declined to say exactly who. They also stressed that the relationship was never consensual, and that Donald was acting under duress and threats from the superintendent.
Donald is the driver who was seen out drinking with Johnson at Ceres Cafe hours before he was found slumped over the wheel of his city-issued SUV just blocks from his Bridgeport home on Oct. 16. Mayor Lori Lightfoot eventually fired Johnson as the city’s top cop, accusing him of lying to her and the public about the circumstances of the incident.
The lawsuit comes one day after CBS 2 learned six officers have been dealt suspensions for their role in that incident, which led to Johnson’s dismissal as the city’s top cop.
The lawsuit claims Johnson confessed to Donald that he “damaged or destroyed evidence contained in his cell phone” as the city’s Inspector General was investigating the incident.
Donald’s attorneys noted that the Inspector General has since claimed the SIM card in Donald’s phone also was damaged or destroyed. However, they said she denies damaging the SIM card herself, claiming she left it on her desk at police headquarters as instructed after the Inspector General’s office began its probe. Donald’s attorneys stopped short of accusing Johnson of destroying the SIM card on Donald’s phone, but said they intend to find out who did as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit.
“In order for Superintendent Johnson to destroy all evidence of his text message and/or email exchanges with [Donald] he would have to destroy the evidence of his sexual assaults and sexual harassment contained in both his cell phone and [Donald’s] cell phone,” the lawsuit states.
The Inspector General earlier this year issued a report finding Johnson drove drunk the night he was found asleep at the wheel, and also allowed Donald to drive drunk that same night, and falsely claimed he ordered an Internal Affairs investigation of his conduct when he never actually did. The findings were part of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s second quarter report for 2020, and the Lightfoot administration has refused to release Ferguson’s full report on the Johnson incident.
According to Donald’s lawsuit, Johnson first met her in the summer of 2015 while she was assigned to the Central (1st) District.
“Superintendent Johnson then masterminded a plan to have Plaintiff assigned to his unit so that he could be close to her, keep her under his control, dictate her work hours and schedule, ply her with alcohol, and perpetrate his sexual harassment and abuse of her,” the lawsuit claims.
Donald was assigned to Johnson’s security detail in May 2016, and six months later the superintendent arranged for her to be his personal driver, according to the lawsuit.
“Shortly thereafter, Superintendent Johnson began using his authority as Plaintiff’s supervisor to engage in years of sexually harassing and abusive conduct directed at Plaintiff creating an ongoing pattern of emotional, physical and sexual abuse,” the lawsuit states.
Donald claims Johnson repeatedly texted her nude photos of himself, forcibly kissed and touched her, and forced her to have sex with him.
“Superintendent Johnson used his position of power and authority over Plaintiff to pressure her into engaging in these sexual acts by conditioning her employment and advancements within CPD upon her submission to unwanted and unwelcomed sexual activity, promising her promotions, and berating her whenever she summoned the courage to resist his advances,” the lawsuit states.
Donald said Johnson also repeatedly referred to her in demeaning and derogatory terms.
“After the first time he sexually assaulted me in his office at CPD headquarters, he told me that I belonged to him. He referred to me as his girl. At times, when I was able to avoid his sexual advances, he would tell me, ‘you got away this time,’” she said.
Donald said, as a result of Johnson’s abuse, she has been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, and adult psychological abuse.
The lawsuit claims Johnson first sexually assaulted Donald in late June or early July of 2016, while Donald was getting ready to drive the superintendent to an event. Donald said Johnson forced her onto a couch in a side room of his personal office, pulled down her pants without her consent, forcibly performed oral sex on her, then ejaculated on her, and told her “now you belong to me.”
Donald said the sexual assaults and harassments continued on a regular basis until the end of 2019, when Johnson was fired as superintendent, and demoted back to the rank of lieutenant, and ultimately retired. According to the lawsuit, Johnson repeatedly forced himself on Donald, sometimes locking her in his office. She also said he would take her on work-related trips, and expect her to have sex with him.
“On occasions during these work-related trips that Plaintiff was able to avoid Superintendent Johnson’s sexual advances, Superintendent Johnson would tell [Donald] that she ‘got away this time,'” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also accuses Johnson of telling Donald she needed to “stay on his good side” while she was studying for the CPD sergeant’s exam if she wanted to make rank, and that he could make it happen.
The lawsuit also accuses Mayor Lightfoot of trying to “deflect blame” from Johnson and herself after the incident when he was found asleep at the wheel of his car, and ordering Johnson to remove Donald from his security detail and send her back to the 1st District.
“Mayor Lightfoot exacerbated the hostile work environment,” the suit reads, “by ordering Superintendent Johnson to ‘dump’ Cynthia Donald by having her relocated away from CPD Headquarters.”
According to the lawsuit, Johnson declined and instead reassigned her to the records department at Police Headquarters “where he could continue to sexually harass her.”
The lawsuit claims, when Lightfoot ordered Johnson to “dump” Donald, he called the mayor a “b****,” and accused her of “trying to steal ‘my music,'” referring to Donald.
Johnson released the following statement late Thursday through his attorney, Thomas Needham:
“The allegations of sexual assault and harassment made by Ms. Donald never happened. Her claims are not only patently false, they are egregiously dehumanizing towards those who have truly suffered harassment in the workplace and are an affront to everything I believe in and stand for. I pray for Ms. Donald’s well-being and look forward to the opportunity where the facts can be presented.”
In another statement, the city’s Law Department declined to comment on allegations Lightfoot ordered Johnson to demote Donald.
“We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Cynthia Donald against Mr. Johnson and the City. Mr. Johnson was terminated from his role as superintendent in connection with his conduct during the events of October 16-17, 2019. We cannot comment on the specific allegations, which, if true, would be inexcusable. Mayor Lightfoot emphatically denies, and common sense dictates, that Eddie Johnson ever told the Mayor about allegations of abuse or harassment of Cynthia Donald by Eddie Johnson. Ms. Donald’s lawyers never claimed otherwise,” a Law Department spokesperson wrote in an email.
Donald is now on medical leave.
Donald’s attorneys declined to say if Johnson should also face criminal charges, and said they have not had any discussions with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office or federal prosecutors about the case.
“But certainly, if they want to investigate further, and press charges, that’s their prerogative,” attorney Bob McLaughlin said.
Hart said Donald has not filed a criminal complaint because she didn’t feel it was a viable option to report her superiors.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office declined to confirm or deny if they are investigating.
CBS 2’s Chris Tye and Political Investigator Dana Kozlov contributed to this report.