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Fired Chicago police superintendent denies lying about car incident

Chicago police superintendent fired

Ousted Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Tuesday that he didn't "intentionally mislead or deceive" anyone about the mid-October night he was found sleeping behind the wheel of his SUV. Johnson, 59, released a statement through his attorney a day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired him for "ethical lapses," just weeks before he was set to retire. 

Lightfoot said an inspector general's report, which hasn't been released publicly, revealed Johnson misled her and the public about the circumstances of that evening and showed "flawed decision-making."

Two Chicago newspapers published reports Monday night that seem to contradict Johnson's public account of the incident, in which he blamed an issue with his medication. Johnson claimed he felt lightheaded while driving home and fell asleep after pulling over. Lightfoot said he'd told her he had "a couple of drinks with dinner" that night.

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 In this Nov. 7, 2019 file photo, Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announces his retirement after more than three years leading the department in Chicago. Mayor Lightfoot fired Police Supt. Eddie Johnson Monday Dec. 2, 2019, due to his "ethical lapses." AP Photo/Teresa Crawford File

The Chicago Sun-Times reported he was drinking for hours with a female member of his security detail at a downtown restaurant. The Chicago Tribune reported that the inspector general's investigation includes video showing Johnson drinking for hours with a woman at a Chicago Board of Trade building restaurant. Both newspapers attributed the information to sources they didn't identify.

"One thing I want everyone to know is this: I did not intentionally mislead or deceive the Mayor or the people of Chicago," Johnson said in the statement. "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."

Johnson said he has "no interest in fighting a battle" for his reputation after three decades with the police department.

"Reputations are not built in a day and not damaged in a day either," he said. "I will simply rely on the reputation for integrity that I think I have earned during my long career, with the faith that we should all be judged by the entirety of our lives and not on what happened on our worst days."

Messages left Tuesday with city and police spokespeople weren't immediately returned. Johnson's attorney, Tom Needham, said Tuesday that the former police chief would not have comments beyond his statement.

Lightfoot fiercely criticized Johnson during a City Hall news conference on Monday for a series of ''intolerable" actions, including lying to her and the public about that evening. She said an inspector general's report, which includes video evidence, showed a different account from the one Johnson gave. She declined to discuss those differences in detail.

"While at some point, the inspector general's report may become public and those details may be revealed, I don't feel like it is appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson's wife or children to do so at this time," Lightfoot said.

Johnson, who during his term as chief has been hospitalized for a blood clot and a kidney transplant, was found in his car by officers early Oct. 17. The officers did not conduct any sobriety tests and let their boss drive home. It was unclear if they would be disciplined. The Tribune reports that Johnson partially rolled down the window on his police vehicle, showed his superintendent's badge and drove away.

Johnson was set to retire at the end of the month after three decades with the Chicago Police Department. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who was named as an interim replacement, took over earlier than scheduled on Monday and spent the day meeting with department officials.

"This is not at all how I envisioned the transition but, and I think this is very important, this will not deter the transition," he said Tuesday at a news conference on an illegal gun operation. "You know, Superintendent Johnson and I will talk. We have talked. He has the best interests of the city and CPD at heart as do I."

He said he and Johnson are friends, but everyone has to be accountable.

"None of us are perfect. Everybody makes mistakes," Beck said. "But we have to live with that. We have to live with our errors."

Sources told CBS Chicago's Suzanne Le Mignot roughly 20 high-ranking officers are planning to retire in the wake of the firing, most of whom were appointed by Johnson. A Chicago police spokesman could only confirm to the station that four officers had submitted retirement paperwork.

Beck said the changes in the top ranks are "natural." Beck will serve as interim superintendent until the Chicago Police Board completes a nationwide search for a new superintendent, the station reports. Lightfoot will appoint one of the finalists selected by the board.

"A number of people are retiring in very important positions. They will have to be replaced. Obviously, the selection of a new superintendent will be a huge change," he said.

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