Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot abruptly fired the city's top cop Monday, terminating Supt. Eddie Johnson over allegations he "intentionally misled" both her and the public.
Lightfoot said Johnson "engaged in a series of actions intolerable for any leader in a position of trust," citing evidence she had reviewed from an ongoing investigation by the inspector general into an incident in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car in October. The termination came one month before Johnson's planned retirement was set to take effect.
"This is obviously not a decision that I entered into lightly, however the circumstances demanded these actions," Lightfoot said, adding that there were three reasons for her decision, all stemming from his actions on Oct. 16 and 17.
Lightfoot said she saw evidence from the inspector general's report that led her to believe that Johnson "engaged in conduct that is not only unbecoming but demonstrated a series of ethical lapses and flawed decision making that is inconsistent with having the privilege of leading the Chicago Police Department."
She noted that Johnson then "intentionally misled the public" in a press conference on Oct. 17, saying he "had plenty of time to choose his words and the choice he made was a communicated narrative replete with false statements, all seemingly intended to hide the true nature of his conduct from the evening before."
Lightfoot added that Johnson lied to her personally "several times" when she "challenged him about the narrative that he shared," describing what happened in the early morning hours when he was found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV at a stop sign.
Johnson initially said a change in medication triggered the incident and he felt "lightheaded" while driving, but ordered an internal investigation of the incident, citing the need for "transparency."
Lightfoot said at the time that Johnson admitted to her that he "had a couple of drinks with dinner."
She said Monday, however, that "upon a thorough review of the materials" from the ongoing investigation, "it has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of ethical lapses that are intolerable."
"I've reviewed the inspector general's report and videotape evidence and makes it clear that the only choice that I had to take was the one that I've taken. There's no gray area here," Lightfoot said. "I saw things that were inconsistent with what he told me personally and what he revealed to members of the public."
Lightfoot declined to offer specifics of the report and its evidence, saying she did not believe it would be "appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson's wife or children to do so at this time."
"Mr. Johnson failed the hard-working members of the Chicago Police Department. He intentionally misled the people of Chicago and he intentionally misled me. None of that is acceptable," she said.
Weeks after the incident in question, Johnson announced he would be retiring at the end of the year. He was joined by many high-ranking Chicago officials, including Lightfoot, at his retirement announcement last month.
"Had I known all the facts at the time, I would have relieved him of his duties as superintendent then and there," Lightfoot said. "I certainly would not have participated in a celebratory press conference to announce his retirement."
Johnson said in his announcement that he was stepping down to spend more time with his family. He acknowledged that being the city's top cop "has taken its toll," but added "my integrity remains intact."
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was named the interim superintendent following Johnson's announcement - a choice that Lightfoot reinforced on Monday.
"There must be no mistake about the message I am sending today. The 13,400 sworn and the civilian members of the Chicago Police Department who work hard every day deserve a leader they can believe in," she said. "And to achieve the reform and accountability in the department that we know is urgently needed, we require a leader whose actions reflect the virtues of integrity honor and legitimacy - the touchstones of what it takes to have the privilege of being a Chicago police officer."
"I am confident that interim Supt. Beck is such a leader and that both he and the eventual permanent superintendent will serve with honor," she added.