City Releases Eddie Johnson Video and Documents Following BGA Lawsuit
The city of Chicago on Monday released bodycam video of police last year interacting with then-Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson after he was found asleep in his parked car on the South Side.
The city also released dozens of pages of documents and 911 calls of the incident, which sparked a back-and-forth between Johnson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the mayor ultimately fired Johnson as superintendent.
The Better Government Association had sued the city for videos, audio files and documents, many of which the city released to the public on Monday. The city said it unsealed the materials following the conclusion of an internal city investigation.
On the video, police officers can be seen approaching Johnson’s parked vehicle and asking him if he is alright. Johnson at first appears disoriented before the officer asks to see Johnson’s identification.
“Sir, you alright?” one of the officers asks on the video, apparently unaware the man behind the wheel was Johnson. While the officer on the driver’s side of the car steps back for a few seconds, another officer can be seen on the video looking into the vehicle from the passenger’s side.
“You just sitting here or you want to go home?” the officer on the driver’s side asks Johnson after the superintendent shows the officer an ID.
“I’m good,” Johnson replies.
“Alright sir,” the officer responds. “Have a good night.”
The officer then walks away from the superintendent’s vehicle without any more interactions with Johnson, including asking Johnson to exit his vehicle or asking him to perform any sobriety tests.
The single video the city released provides only a bit more clarity on what happened just after midnight on Oct. 17 near the 3400 block of South Aberdeen Street. After the incident, Johnson requested an investigation of himself.
He initially blamed the incident on his failure to take his blood pressure medication, though Lightfoot later added Johnson told her he had consumed “a couple of drinks with dinner” that night.
Lightfoot later fired Johnson for intentionally misleading her and the public about the situation.
In addition to the video, the city also released recordings of 911 calls from passersby who reported Johnson’s black Chevrolet Tahoe stopped at the intersection. The car was running and the lights were off, and Johnson appeared to be sleeping at the wheel. One 911 caller said the car had been stopped for about five minutes.
The city also released heavily redacted recordings of the communications between patrol officers at the scene and dispatchers. Any substantive discussion over the radio was not made public, but at one point a patrol officer could be heard calling for a supervisor to come to the scene.
An attorney for the city said it released the bodycam video, audio files and documents following the completion of investigations into Johnson and other officers by the city’s inspector general. The city on Monday did not, however, release the inspector general’s report or any findings by the IG’s office.
In November, the BGA filed its lawsuit for many of those same documents, with attorney Matt Topic arguing the city was in violation of state open records laws and that the city had not proven that the requested records were exempt.
“The city’s claim that it would have interfered with any investigation to have released this information is absurd and reflects the city’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge that the law does not allow these kinds of withholdings,” Topic said. “Apparently the city didn’t learn that lesson in the Laquan McDonald case or many others in which these blanket secrecy claims have been rejected. We will be seeking the full measure of penalties available for this willful violation of the statute.”
In the weeks following the October incident, the situation and the changing storylines ultimately proved to be Johnson’s undoing as superintendent.
After Johnson initially blamed the medication change, Lightfoot said Johnson acknowledged to her he had drinks with friends earlier in the evening and that Johnson intended to retire.
But even before he retired, Lightfoot in December fired him, saying she had learned Johnson lied to her and the public about the incident.
After dropping the woman off, he attempted to drive to his home in the Bridgeport neighborhood before behing found asleep at the wheel of his Tahoe, which was still running about half-past midnight just blocks from his house.