Eddie Johnson Transferred Reported Love-Interest From Plum Assignment As Scandal Snowballed

Eddie Johnson
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson visits the Chicago Police Department training academy on June 25, 2019. He transferred a female officer out of his security detail after an evening drinking with her turned into a scandal that eventually led to his firing. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Eddie Johnson
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson visits the Chicago Police Department training academy on June 25, 2019. He transferred a female officer out of his security detail after an evening drinking with her turned into a scandal that eventually led to his firing. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Eddie Johnson Transferred Reported Love-Interest From Plum Assignment As Scandal Snowballed

As the scandal around Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson widened in the weeks after he was found asleep in his car after an evening of drinking, the former top cop reassigned a female subordinate who spent that evening with him at a downtown bar.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the two were recorded by the bar’s security system repeatedly kissing. A Chicago police department spokesman confirmed the officer was transferred out of a plum assignment on Johnson’s security team a few weeks later.

The transfer by Johnson could be in violation of city policy, which prohibits employment decisions from being made based on an employee’s “submission to or rejection of” a supervisor’s sexual advances, and is one more ripple in the fast moving scandal. Johnson is also married to another Chicago police officer, Lt. Nakia Fenner.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot abruptly fired Johnson Monday, a few weeks before his planned retirement, because she said Johnson lied about his actions when he was found asleep in his car by Chicago police officers in October.

At the time, Johnson said he was tired and disoriented because of a mix-up involving his blood-pressure medication, but news reports indicate Johnson had been drinking “for hours.”

Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Johnson appointed the officer to his security detail in 2016, and that Johnson moved her from the security detail to the bureau of technical services in early November.

Guglielmi said the move off of the security unit was neither a promotion nor a demotion and was not done for disciplinary reasons. Guglielmi couldn’t say if the move was connected to a relationship with Johnson because Guglielmi said he had no knowledge that Johnson and the officer were in a romantic relationship.

The officer, who is a 13-year CPD veteran, did not respond to emails or answer phone calls seeking comment.

Employment attorney Megan O’Malley, who has sued the city of Chicago on multiple occasions, said if Johnson and the officer were romantically involved, the sequence of events raises “significant red flags.”

“Any time you have a supervisor or superior officer in a sexual relationship with a subordinate, that is your first enormous red flag,” O’Malley said. “He obviously used his position to bring her into his security detail, and whether he did that as a favor because they were already involved or whether he did that beforehand and then used his access and authority over her to pressure her to get involved is an unknown, but either one of those situations would violate the law.”

Then, O’Malley said, the fact that the officer was transferred shortly after the scandal came to light could indicate sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

“She's the one who takes the fall and is moved out and moved into what sounds like it's probably a less desirable, less prestigious position,” O’Malley said.

Johnson’s predecessor as superintendent, Garry McCarthy, said the superintendent’s security detail is considered a desirable assignment for many officers because of its proximity to power, opportunities for overtime and a lot of on-the-clock downtime.

But McCarthy said by transferring the officer to the bureau of technical services, Johnson gave her a “super soft landing.”

“I don’t see it as a demotion,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said if the officer in the security detail was part of the investigation, or just implicated in the scandal, it would be normal police department practice to transfer her to a different unit.

“Getting her out of the superintendent’s office is probably the smartest thing you could do,” McCarthy said. “Because it would be a distraction to everybody else around there. And that office needs to function at a high level. And besides which, you know, she's now got a little bit of a scarlet letter, if you will. And it's probably inappropriate for somebody to be investigated like that while in the superintendent's office.”

Johnson’s attorney, Thomas Needham, did not respond to questions about Johnson’s relationship with the officer or the decision to transfer her out of the superintendent’s office.

When asked if Lightfoot was concerned about Johnson’s decision to transfer the officer, or the timing, mayoral spokesman Pat Mullane declined comment, saying it would be “inappropriate” to weigh in while Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.