Could Eddie Johnson Face More Fallout From Scandal That Got Him Fired?

Eddie Johnson retirement announcement
Eddie Johnson, then-superintendent of the Chicago Police, announces his retirement on Nov. 7, 2019. As the city inspector general’s office investigates the drinking-and-driving scandal that led to Johnson’s firing on Dec. 2, he has more to lose than his job. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press
Eddie Johnson retirement announcement
Eddie Johnson, then-superintendent of the Chicago Police, announces his retirement on Nov. 7, 2019. As the city inspector general’s office investigates the drinking-and-driving scandal that led to Johnson’s firing on Dec. 2, he has more to lose than his job. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press

Could Eddie Johnson Face More Fallout From Scandal That Got Him Fired?

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office won’t describe the scope of its investigation in the drinking-and-driving scandal that led to former Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s firing. But the probe raises questions about whether Johnson could lose more than his job.

The scandal started around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 17, when officers found Johnson asleep behind the wheel of a running vehicle. They let him drive away without a sobriety test. On Dec. 2, Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Johnson and accused him of lying to her about that night — an accusation he denied. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Johnson and a female officer on his security team had been drinking for hours at a downtown restaurant and that a security video shows them repeatedly kissing.

1. Could Johnson lose his pension over this?

On its own, an IG finding against Johnson would not jeopardize his pension, according to Jerry Marconi, an attorney who represents officers before the Retirement Board of the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago.

“There is no discretion for a pension fund to just refuse to award a pension,” Marconi said. “The only legal basis that I know is if you’re convicted of a felony related to your employment.”

Johnson has not been charged with any crime, let alone a felony related to his employment.

2. Could he face criminal charges for drinking and driving?

Even without a field sobriety test — and without samples of Johnson’s blood or urine — investigators could gather evidence about whether he was intoxicated. Witnesses might claim his eyes were bloodshot, his breath smelled like alcohol, his speech was slurred, and so on. Video recordings showing the drinking and any unsteady driving could also be used.

But any DUI case would likely be a misdemeanor unless there were a prior offense. A spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office said Johnson has no DUI convictions. He also had a valid driver’s license that night and there seems to be no evidence his driving caused a death or serious bodily injury — factors that could up a first DUI to a more serious felony charge.

Apart from that, criminal defense attorney Robert Cotter, who represents DUI clients, said a case against Johnson would face a giant obstacle: “The officers let him drive home. It would be near impossible for them to come into court later and say, ‘In my opinion as an officer, he was drunk.’ Well, then, why in the world did you let him drive home? That would be a dereliction of duty. It’s their duty to keep roads safe.”

3. Could Johnson face any other criminal charges, such as obstruction of justice?

The IG’s office is looking at how Johnson and other officers handled the incident.

A Chicago official who says he saw bodycam footage from officers who found Johnson asleep in the vehicle says it shows them tapping on the window and waking him up. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the officers ask for ID. Johnson pulls out a wallet with a plastic window showing a CPD identification.

The officers ask whether he is OK to drive home and he answers that he is. They let him drive away.

Former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer said the top cop presenting his police credentials would not seem to warrant criminal charges.

“Just because you’re the superintendent of police and you say, ‘OK, nothing to see here,’ I really don’t think that that would amount to obstruction of justice,” Safer said.

But Johnson could be charged with obstruction if he “either destroyed paperwork or told officers not to complete paperwork,” Safer said.

A CPD spokesman said the issues under investigation include the former security team member’s alleged removal of a SIM card from a cell phone the IG sought as evidence.

Safer said it would be obstruction of justice if Johnson told that woman to take out the SIM card or conceal any other evidence.

“If there were threats that were made to officers, telling them that he would see that they’re fired or anything like that, then you get into extortion,” Safer said. “And there’s a federal statute that says that you can’t use the color of law — that is, your office — to intimidate somebody.”

A spokesperson for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office said the office could not comment on whether it had received any referrals about the case from the inspector general.

4. Could Johnson face further punishment from the city?

Johnson is no longer a city employee but — if the IG’s office finds he violated any rule, regulation or law — Lightfoot’s administration could take several steps.

The city could issue a formal determination on the findings and put the IG’s report in Johnson’s personnel file in the unlikely event he applied for re-employment by the city.

CPD could also withhold or rescind a special identification card and star that Chicago officers get when they retire in good standing.

And CPD could inform the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board that, because Johnson left the department without good standing, he should not be allowed into a board program enabling retired officers to carry concealed firearms.

Chip Mitchell reports for WBEZ on criminal justice. Patrick Smithcontributed. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1 and @pksmid.