Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was playing defense again Friday afternoon after arriving so late for a West Side meeting with religious leaders that most of them were gone before he got there.
The closed-door meeting, held at Greater St. John Bible Church in the Austin neighborhood, was billed as a chance for the clergy members to question Johnson about his responses to Laquan McDonald’s shooting — responses documented by a 2016 inspector general’s investigation.
The city released records from that probe last week, showing that Johnson was among top police officials who viewed the now infamous dashcam video of the shooting about 10 days after that 2014 incident and did not object to a police narrative that officer Jason Van Dyke’s use of deadly force was justified.
“We have to determine whether or not Eddie Johnson is part of the solution or part of the problem,” Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church in East Garfield Park said.
But when Johnson looked like a no-show Friday afternoon, about 15 of the religious leaders left. Just Hatch and three others were still present when the superintendent showed up.
After a few minutes inside with them, Johnson headed to an SUV waiting for him and declined to comment about the meeting other than to say it had been “good.”
He also refused to answer questions about an incident Thursday at 12:30 a.m in which he was found asleep in his car after pulling over. Mayor Lori Lightfoot disclosed Friday that Johnson admitted to her he had been drinking alcohol before falling asleep, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Johnson on Thursday blamed the incident on his failure to take his blood pressure medication.
Hatch said the pastors at the meeting expressed concerns about the superintendent’s health, “given some of the issues that occured in the last 24 hours.”
But Johnson’s health was not the meeting’s planned topic.
“Part of what precipitated this is that many of us have gotten calls from people calling for the superintendent’s resignation,” Hatch said. “We didn’t think that that would be fair or judicious until we at least had some conversation with him and gave him a chance to speak.”
Johnson also held a news conference last Saturday to respond to criticism from some aldermen about his responses to the McDonald shooting.
Apart from that incident, the pastors said they expressed disappointment over the superintendent’s response to Officer Robert Rialmo’s fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and LeGrier’s neighbor, Bettie Jones, 55, while responding to a 2015 domestic disturbance call in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.
Johnson opposed a city agency’s recommendation to dismiss Rialmo but was overruled by the Police Board, which voted Thursday night to fire the officer.
“The superintendent pushed back,” Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church said.
“He also mentioned it’s vitally important that we get more [police] diversity in these communities,” Acree said.
WBEZ reported in July that a two-year CPD expansion — promoted by Johnson in 2016 as an effort to diversity the ranks — actually decreased the proportion of CPD officers who are African American.
Johnson agreed to hold another meeting with the religious leaders next Wednesday.