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Inspector General's Report: Former Supt. Eddie Johnson Drove Drunk, Swerved Erratically, And Then Lied About What Happened The Night He Was Found Slumped Over Wheel

By Adam Harrington, Todd Feurer, Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Chicago Inspector General's Office report issued Thursday found that former police Supt. Eddie Johnson drove drunk on the night he was found slumped over the wheel of his city-issued vehicle last fall, and drove erratically through the Bridgeport neighborhood as officers followed him home.

The report also indicated that Johnson allowed another officer who worked as his driver and security detail to drive drunk, and claimed he ordered the Bureau of Internal Affairs to conduct an investigation when he never actually did.

The findings are part of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's second quarter report for 2020. The Lightfoot administration has refused to release the full report from Ferguson's investigation of the incident. An ordinance approved by the City Council last  year, and supported by the mayor, allows the city's Law Department to decide whether to release IG reports in cases that involve a death or that are or might be a felony, and are "of a compelling public interest."

In a statement released Thursday, the Chicago Police Department said: "The Chicago Police Department is currently reviewing the Office of Inspector General's investigation report into personnel that responded to the October 2019 incident involving Mr. Eddie Johnson. The Department will take any necessary disciplinary measures upon their complete review of that report."

The Lightfoot administration has said the full report on the Johnson case does not involve either a death, or a felony, so it cannot be released.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 17 of last year, Johnson was found slumped over the wheel of his city-issued Chevrolet Tahoe near 34th Place and Aberdeen Street. The Inspector General's office said Chicago Police officers were called to the scene by a member of the public and found Johnson in the vehicle.

In the wake of the incident, Johnson blamed it all on a blood-pressure medication mix-up that had left him feeling faint after going out with friends for dinner.

The mayor later revealed to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman that Johnson had been drinking that night.

When Johnson was subsequently fired after announcing he would retire at the end of the year last year, sources told CBS 2 Johnson had actually been out drinking with a woman who was not his wife hours before he was found asleep at the wheel.

The female officer whom Johnson was with was a member of his security detail and a part-time driver. Sources said they had been drinking on the night of Oct. 17 at Ceres Café, in the Board of Trade Building at 141 W. Jackson Blvd.

While not naming the bar, the Inspector General's report said that video footage from a downtown restaurant showed Johnson and the other officer there and that "each consumed several large servings of rum."

The superintendent and the other officer then got into Johnson's vehicle with Johnson at the wheel, and city video shows Johnson dropping the other off at Chicago Public Safety Headquarters at 10:30 p.m. and allowing the other officer to drive away in a separate vehicle, the Inspector General's report said.

Private security video showed Johnson arriving in the area of 34th Place and Aberdeen Street at 10:39 p.m., the report said. Johnson remained there, parked illegally with the vehicle running, until someone called 911 and officers showed up nearly two hours later around 12:33 a.m., the report said.

A fire truck pulled up while the officers were in front of Johnson's car, and a Fire Department member asked the officer standing at Johnson's driver's side window, "Hey, what was going on?"

The officer did not answer, and the Fire Department member stopped abruptly and went back to the fire truck, the report said.

The body cam video also shows Johnson placing what appeared to be his CPD credentials against the window for the officer to see.

As seen in the body cam video, released late last month, an officer asks, "You just sitting here, or you want to go home?"

Johnson replies, "I'm good," and the officers leave as one says, "All right, sir, have a good night."

The body cam was then turned off, the report said. Private security video shows after that, two more police vehicles pulled up at 12:38 a.m., and a minute later, an officer asked a dispatcher for a supervisor to come to the scene. At 12:40 a.m., the fire truck left.

At 12:43 a.m., an unmarked police vehicle was seen arriving on Aberdeen Street, at which point a supervisor walked toward the officers who were already there, the report said. The subordinate officers then got into their police vehicles and left.

At 12:46 a.m., dashcam video showed Johnson driving away – first turning right and heading east on 34th Street, the opposite direction from where he lives, the report said. The supervising officer who arrived last on scene followed behind him.

Office of Emergency Management and Communications records showed an officer cleared the traffic stop at 12:47 a.m. and coded it "D/19P," also known as a "19-Paul," which means police action was not needed, the report said.

Still, officers stayed in the area afterward, and dashcam video showed the superintendent's vehicle now heading toward his home. He failed to stop at a stop sign, and also made a slow, wide right turn into the wrong lane, moved to the correct lane, and headed north on Racine Avenue, the report said.

Two police vehicles that were both involved in the initial call headed to the area of Johnson's home at 12:51 a.m., the report said.

"It's effectively, if not actually, a cover-up," said University of Pittsburgh Law Professor and national police conduct expert David A. Harris.

Harris reviewed the Inspector General's report for the CBS 2 Investigators, and told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey the findings indicate a culture of concealment within the department.

Hickey: "Was Superintendent Johnson treated differently than a civilian?"

Harris: "There's no doubt. I can't imagine a civilian out have been allowed under the same conditions - to drive away, let alone not be arrested."

It's unclear if any of the officers who responded to the incident will face disciplinary action for failing to administer a field sobriety test, or for allowing Johnson to drive home drunk.

"The Chicago Police Department is currently reviewing the Office of Inspector General's investigation report into personnel that responded to the October 2019 incident involving Mr. Eddie Johnson. The Department will take any necessary disciplinary measures upon their complete review of that report," CPD spokeswoman Kellie Bartoli wrote in an email.

Harris said the officers were in a difficult position, but should have known what to do to protect the public.

"I don't diminish the dilemma that the officers themselves were facing," he said. "They're in a very tight spot and they know it. And that is down to the way the office has always operated."

In addition to driving drunk, Johnson also made numerous false statements – including that he was out with friends for dinner when he was actually drinking with the other officer who was his driver and security detail, and also claimed he "ordered the Bureau of Internal Affairs to conduct an internal investigation," when he never did any such thing, the report said.

After the incident, a police spokesman said, "Officers did not observe any signs of impairment, and the Superintendent drove himself home."

At the news conference he held the following evening, Johnson explained that while off duty the night of the incident, he was out with a group of friends for dinner and was feeling fine when he left the restaurant. But close to home, he began feeling lightheaded – much as he when he nearly collapsed during a news conference in Englewood in 2017.

He admitted that he passed out in his vehicle with the engine running.

"Out of abundance of caution, I pulled over to the side and stopped, even though I was relatively close to home. Someone called 911 and reported a person asleep at the stop sign," Johnson said at the time. "Responding officers did come. They checked on me and confirmed that I could continue on my way. Also, that feeling that I was feeling had passed by that time."

Johnson said at the news conference he fell asleep when he pulled over.

"It's just, your body kind of gives you a warning with the high blood pressure thing that you may pass out," he said at the time. "So I pulled over, stopped, and just rested myself until that feeling passed. I fell asleep – because remember, guys, we worked a long day that day."

The Inspector General's report called this a "materially inaccurate portrayal" of what happened – particularly since Johnson said nothing at the news conference about having consumed alcohol before driving his police-issued vehicle.

The report said Johnson admitted to Mayor Lightfoot and her chief of staff in passing that he had a couple of drinks with dinner, but also said he pulled over because he felt ill and talked about the medication issue.

Johnson eventually complied with a written request for information from the Inspector General's office, but said he was unable to appear for an interview on the dates the office requested because of a pre-planned vacation, the report said. Johnson also declined a request for an interview after he was fired, the report said.

The Inspector General's office advised Mayor Lightfoot to fire Johnson.

On Dec. 2, Mayor Lightfoot did fire Johnson. She said Johnson had lied to her and to the public, and said video evidence from the incident contradicted Johnson's statements to her.

Lightfoot has declined to go into specifics about what Johnson lied about, "out of deference to his wife and children."

Mayor Lightfoot's official termination letter, also released last month, read in part that the Inspector General found that Johnson "engaged in conduct unbecoming, thereafter intentionally misled the public about your conduct and lied to me directly."

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