Two major Chicago news organizations on Tuesday joined the Better Government Association in its lawsuit against the city of Chicago for records surrounding an incident in which former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was found by police officers asleep behind the wheel of his parked car.
NBC5 and Chicago Public Media, which runs Chicago NPR affiliate WBEZ, joined the BGA lawsuit in seeking police body-cam footage, police reports, 911 calls and other records related to the controversial incident, which sparked a city investigation and eventually spurred Mayor Lori Lightfoot to fire Johnson as superintendent.
It remains unclear precisely what happened that mid-October night when officers found Johnson asleep in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle near his Bridgeport home. The superintendent initially blamed his behavior on new medication but later acknowledged to Lightfoot that he had a couple of alcoholic drinks that night before driving home and later slumping over in his car.
Johnson requested an investigation of the incident and announced he was retiring at the end of 2019. But Lightfoot fired Johnson before the end of the year, citing a report by the city’s inspector general in which Lightfoot said she “saw things that were inconsistent with what Mr. Johnson had told me personally and what he revealed to members of the public.”
Sources have told the Chicago Tribune that prior to the incident Johnson had been drinking for hours with a woman who was a Chicago police officer and a member of Johnson’s security detail.
However, few details have been released about how officers were called to the scene or what happened once they came upon Johnson while his car was parked and running in the 3400 block of South Aberdeen Street.
In an effort to discern what happened, NBC5, WBEZ and the BGA each independently filed requests for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The organizations sought several types of records, including 911 calls, videos from the scene, police reports and emails about the incident.
All of those requests were denied by either the Chicago Police Department or the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. The city has said it can’t make the records public because the records are part of an ongoing investigation.
The lawsuit states the denials are a “willful violation” of the FOIA law.
“The people of this state have a right to full disclosure of information relating to the decisions, policies, procedures, rules, standards, and other aspects of government activity that affect the conduct of government and the lives of the people,” Matt Topic, the attorney representing the three news organizations, said in the lawsuit.