The night that Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots into Laquan McDonald, Eddie Johnson took action.
Johnson, a deputy chief of patrol at the time, telephoned David McNaughton, another deputy chief. Johnson assigned McNaughton to take command of the shooting scene.
McNaughton was the officer who provided a statement for the news media that claimed McDonald “continued to approach” Van Dyke and his patrol partner before Van Dyke opened fire. Hours later, McNaughton signed off on reports that established a CPD narrative that McDonald had attacked the two officers.
About 10 days later, as part of CPD’s formal review of the incident, Johnson watched the now-infamous dashcam video of the shooting with other members of the department’s command staff but, by his own admission, he did not voice objections to the narrative that Van Dyke’s use of deadly force was justified.
Johnson’s role in the case has always been murky. But documents released Wednesday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration show that he had close ties to the architects of the false narrative, which crumbled when the video was finally released more than a year later. The documents are part of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation into the police department’s handling of the shooting.
Among the police bosses at the meeting where Johnson watched the video was Osvaldo Valdez, a lieutenant in the Bureau of Detectives. The meeting’s purpose, Valdez said under oath to city investigators, was “to review the video and understand that 16 shots was justified.”
“There was never no question whether the shooting was justified,” Valdez said. “Everyone [at the meeting] agreed that Jason Van Dyke used the force necessary to eliminate the threat.”
“No one expressed any other concerns or contradictions to what has already been determined as far as the shooting,” Valdez said.
A written statement from CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Johnson “was never in a position to determine whether the shooting was justified.”
Johnson, Guglielmi wrote, “stated that he never said at any time that the shooting was justified or not.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel promoted Johnson to superintendent in 2016 after firing Johnson’s predecessor, Garry McCarthy, because of the department’s handling of the shooting.
After Ferguson recommended the dismissal of McNaughton and 10 other officers accused of covering up for Van Dyke, Johnson moved to fire some low-ranking officers.
Johnson did not act on Ferguson’s recommendation to fire McNaughton or Eugene Roy, who was a commander in the Bureau of Detectives during the shooting and oversaw CPD’s investigation of the incident. Instead, Johnson let them retire quietly.
Around the same time, Johnson promoted James O’Donnell to deputy chief of street operations. O’Donnell had been the district commander of Van Dyke and the other officers present during the shooting. He was one of the highest ranking officers to arrive on the scene afterwards.
Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.
Correction: A previous caption misidentified the date on which Johnson gave the speech in which he is photographed. The speech was January 8, 2019.