Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was unexpectedly fired Monday just weeks before he was set to retire, ending a rocky, three-year tenure as head of a department marked by controversial police shootings, court-supervised reforms and its handling of high-profile arrests.
But in announcing his firing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested it was Johnson’s personal failures when he was found asleep behind the wheel of his car on Oct. 17 and for what he told investigators that played into the decision to end his employment.
“Upon a thorough review of the materials of the Inspector General’s ongoing investigation, it has become clear that Mr. Johnson engaged in a series of ethical lapses that are intolerable,” Lightfoot said in a statement ahead of a news conference in which she rebuked Johnson for his conduct.
“Eddie Johnson intentionally lied to me several times even when I challenged him about the narrative that he shared with me,” she later said. “He maintained that he was telling the truth. I now know definitively that he was not.”
Lightfoot’s scathing statements come nearly a month after Johnson, 60, said he planned to retire at the end of the year from the nation’s second-largest municipal police force, a department where he began his career as a patrol officer in 1988.
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Chicago police said a driver had called 911 to report Johnson slumped behind his steering wheel after midnight in front of a stop sign near his home. A breathalyzer test was not administered at the scene, but according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot said Johnson had told her that he had “a couple of drinks with dinner” before the incident.
“This job has taken its toll — taken a toll on my health, my family, my friends,” Johnson said during a news conference in November to announce his retirement. “But my integrity has remained intact.”
Lightfoot also seemed supportive of Johnson at the time, telling reporters, “These stars can sometimes feel like carrying the weight of the world.”
But at a news conference Monday, the mayor pilloried Johnson, saying he misled the residents of Chicago and let down the 13,400 officers and department staff he was in charge of leading.
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Lightfoot declined to give specifics about what Johnson supposedly did to make her lose trust in him, adding, “I don’t feel like it is appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson’s wife or children to do so at this time.” But she said she reviewed the inspector general’s report and videotape evidence, which “makes it clear that the only choice that I had to take was the one that I’ve taken. There’s no gray area here.”
The inspector general’s report has not been released, although Lightfoot said the details in it may eventually become public.
“A lie is a lie,” the mayor added. “He told me something that happened that night that turned out to be fundamentally different than what he portrayed to me and what he portrayed to the members of the public.”
Lightfoot added that officers “deserve a leader who they can believe in,” and said she has confidence in former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who she previously announced would take over as interim superintendent following Johnson’s retirement.
Johnson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
An initial police report after Johnson was found asleep in his car said he told investigators he was “feeling lightheaded” while driving. Johnson personally asked for an internal review of his actions, a department spokesman said.
Chicago police say they can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
The law enforcement veteran’s health has been called into question in recent years after he was diagnosed with a kidney condition decades earlier. In 2017, Johnson fainted during a news conference; months later, he underwent a kidney transplant after receiving the organ from his son.
Following the incident in October, Johnson told reporters that his doctor had replaced his blood pressure medication, but he failed to obtain his new prescription. He didn’t explain why he decided to drive home late at night, but said his body “kind of gives you a warning with the high blood pressure thing that you may pass out, so I pulled over, stopped and I just rested myself until that feeling passed.”
Johnson was tapped to lead the Chicago Police Department in 2016 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the mayor fired the previous superintendent, Garry McCarthy, in 2015.
Johnson, a Chicago native, was tasked with getting a handle on the spate of violence gripping the city as well as correcting a department that had come under sharp criticism from federal officials under the Obama administration. The Department of Justice found repeated civil rights violations and a pattern of officer misconduct and use of force violations.
Chicago became a flash point for protests after the October 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke. In January, Van Dyke was sentenced to almost seven years in prison for second-degree murder for the incident where he shot McDonald 16 times.
Under Johnson’s leadership, the department entered into federal court-supervised reforms meant to address police use of force, recruitment, how investigations are conducted, and other key issues. This past spring, Johnson was optimistic with how the policy changes, which could take several years to fully implement, would affect the department.
“It’s important that we cooperate with the monitor and we have embraced the consent decree because I think that it will make us better when we come out of it,” he told NBC Chicago.
Johnson and his department were in the spotlight earlier this year with the arrest of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who police say filed a false police report claiming he was the victim of a hate-crime attack in Chicago. Smollett is black and openly gay.
The winding case drew national attention as the charges were later dropped by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, drawing outrage from Johnson and Emanuel while Smollett maintained his innocence. The actor is currently countersuing the city, several officers and the men who were implicated in the alleged hoax.
Earlier this year, Johnson criticized how Smollett was able to avert clearing his name in the courts.
“When I came on this job, I came on with my honor, my integrity, and my reputation — if someone accused me of doing anything that would circumvent that then I would want my day in court to clear my name,” Johnson said.
PG&E announces $13.5-billion settlement for California fires
Pacific Gas & Electric on Friday announced a $13.5-billion settlement for several Northern California wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.
The settlement with victims covers some of the worst fires in the state’s modern history, including the wine country blazes in 2017 and the fire that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise in 2018.
“We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” Chief Executive Bill Johnson said in a statement.
The announcement also comes as the utility faces an uncertain future. PG&E’s transmission equipment has been widely blamed for repeatedly sparking wildfires, and the utility has not contested damning findings of recent investigations.
The utility has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but is trying to remain financially viable. The utility says the settlement is a step in that direction.
“With this important milestone now accomplished, we are focused on emerging from Chapter 11 as the utility of the future that our customers and communities expect and deserve,” Johnson said.
Richard Bridgford, an attorney who is part of the team representing the victims, called the settlement a “delicate balance” that has three goals: compensating victims as much as possible, deterring future “bad behavior” by the utility and allowing the utility to remain financially viable — in large measure so that it can upgrade safety measures while continuing to provide power to its customers.
“We have changed the corporate calculus for PG&E,” Bridgford said. “It will not be business as usual because they cannot afford this corporate liability.”
PG&E is an investor-owned utility that, critics say, too often puts short-term profits before necessary safety measures.
The Camp fire, which raced through Paradise in 2018, killed 86 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes. Both the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that poorly maintained PG&E equipment sparked that blaze.
The commission also noted that for years, PG&E failed to do climbing inspections of a century-old tower that malfunctioned, causing sparks where the fire originated. Investigators said there was “visible wear” on the arms of a tower linked to the blaze, but that PG&E crews had not climbed the tower since at least 2001.
Such an inspection could have identified problems with a small metal hook that was supposed to hold up a transmission line and insulator on the tower, and “its timely replacement could have prevented the ignition of the Camp fire,” investigators said.
The omission of climbing inspections on the failed tower “is a violation of PG&E’s own policy requiring climbing inspections on towers where recurring problems exist,” investigators wrote.
Other fires covered in the settlement include the Tubbs fire in 2017, the Ghost Ship fire in an Oakland warehouse in 2016 and the Butte fire in 2015.
The wine country fires in 2017 scorched more than 200,000 acres mostly in Napa County, destroyed or damaged more than 5,500 homes, displaced 100,000 people and killed at least 41.
Misconduct by PG&E is not the only factor contributing to the intensity and expanse of the blazes, though. In the last 20 years, more acres have burned in the wine country region than in the entire previous half-century, fueled by rising temperatures and the effects of Diablo winds on increasingly dry terrain.
The increasingly dangerous natural conditions tied to climate change have raised the stakes for what can happen when human error or corporate misdirection is added to the equation. PG&E’s aging infrastructure, in some cases, has then provided the literal spark.
The Ghost Ship fire was different. It erupted in a Bay Area warehouse where people were living in hazardous conditions. Thirty-six people died. Some victims blame PG&E equipment, although the cause of that fire has been disputed.
This new agreement is the utility’s third major recent settlement. PG&E already had agreed to pay $1 billion to cities, counties and other public entities, and $11 billion to insurance companies and other entities that have already paid claims relating to the 2017 and 2018 wildfires.
This settlement is intended to help victims with no insurance and victims whose insurance was not enough to cover their losses. People have until Dec. 31 to file initial claims for a share from the trust fund that the settlement will create.
The settlement does not cover PG&E’s potential liability for more recent fires, including this year’s Kincade fire, which also tore through parts of wine country.
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Official documents shed light on Tokyo’s role in ‘comfort women’: Kyodo
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Imperial Japanese Army asked the government to provide one “comfort woman” for every 70 soldiers, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, citing wartime government documents it had reviewed, shedding a fresh light on Tokyo’s involvement in the practice.
“Comfort women” is a euphemism for the girls and women – many of them Korean – forced into prostitution at Japanese military brothels. The issue has plagued Japan’s ties with South Korea for decades.
One dispatch from the consul general of Qingdao in China’s Shandong province to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, says that the Imperial Army asked for one woman to accommodate every 70 soldiers, Kyodo reported late on Friday.
Another dispatch, from the consul general of Jinan, also in Shandong province, notes “at least 500 comfort women must be concentrated here” as the Japanese forces made further advances, Kyodo said.
The 1993 “Kono Statement”, named after then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in whose name it was issued, acknowledged Japanese authorities’ involvement in coercing the women to work in the brothels.
But that did not stop disputes over the issue, such as the degree of involvement of the Japanese government.
“From the latest document … we got detailed information on the operation of the brothels — how many soldiers were so-called assigned to a comfort woman,” said Yoon Mi-hyang, head of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
“This is a clear sign that the Japanese government is accountable for forcefully recruiting Korean women for sexual enslavement.”
No officials were immediately available for comment at Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat, which Kyodo said collects official documents concerning comfort women.
South Korea reached a settlement with Japan to resolve the comfort women dispute in 2015, in which Japan apologized to victims and provided 1 billion yen ($9 million) to a fund to help them.
Relations between the two East Asia neighbors have deteriorated since South Korea’s top court ruled in favor of South Koreans seeking compensation from Japanese firms for wartime forced labor.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Editing by Michael Perry)
Saudi Trainee Kills 3 in Shooting at Florida Naval Base
PENSACOLA, Fla. — A member of the Saudi Air Force armed with a handgun fatally shot three people and injured eight others on Friday morning during a bloody rampage in a classroom building at the prestigious Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., where he was training to become a pilot.
The authorities, led by the F.B.I., were investigating to determine the gunman’s motive and whether the shooting was an act of terrorism.
A United States military official identified the suspect, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the attack, as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. He was one of hundreds of military trainees at the base, which is considered the home of naval aviation.
Six other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident, according to a person briefed on the initial stages of the investigation. A group that monitors online jihadist activity said that shortly before the shooting, a Twitter account with a name matching the gunman’s posted a “will” calling the United States a “nation of evil” and criticizing its support for Israel.
The gunman was using a locally purchased Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun with an extended magazine and had four to six other magazines in his possession when he was taken down by a sheriff’s deputy, the person familiar with the investigation said.
The attack by a foreign national inside an American military installation raised questions about the vetting process for international students who are cleared by the Department of Defense and is likely to complicate military cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia at a time when relations with the kingdom are already tense.
In recent months, President Trump has held fast against bipartisan congressional efforts to rebuke his fierce support for Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pressed for his kingdom to rise as a global player in international finance and politics.
Mr. Trump said he had spoken on Friday with the prince’s father, King Salman, who called to offer condolences and denounce the gunman’s deadly violence.
“The king said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter and that this person in no way, shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people so much,” Mr. Trump said at a small-business round table in Washington.
Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi vice minister of defense, wrote on Twitter that military trainees — including himself — have trained on United States soil for years as American allies.
“Like many other Saudi military personnel,” he wrote, “I was trained in a U.S. military base, and we used that valuable training to fight side by side with our American allies against terrorism and other threats.”
The shooting shortly before 7 a.m. shook Pensacola, a city proud of its strong military history and teeming with veterans, including the sheriff.
“I’m devastated. We are in shock. This is surreal,” Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella Jr., the base’s commanding officer, told reporters. “The days ahead are going to be difficult when it finally sinks in what has happened here.”
The time of the attack likely coincided with morning muster and the start of daily classes. The classroom building would have been full of junior officers, including American student naval aviators and student naval flight officers.
It was not known whether the six Saudis detained were students in the classroom building, and there was no immediate indication that those filming the incident were connected to the gunman, according to the person familiar with the investigation.
The Twitter posting cited by the SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist activity, included three typed messages posted hours before Friday’s shooting. “Your decision-makers, the politicians, the lobbyists and the major corporations are the ones gaining from your foreign policy, and you are the ones paying the price for it,” it said. SITE said the posting quoted the former Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.
Law enforcement officials did not confirm the authenticity of the account.
Streets were shut down all along the perimeter of the base, and traffic was paralyzed as ambulances and patrol cars raced toward the scene. The base, which employs more than 16,000 military personnel and 7,400 civilians, remained on lockdown with slow evacuations underway throughout the day.
Jeff Bergosh, an Escambia County commissioner and a facilities management contractor for the base, said emergency vehicles had roared past him as he pulled up to the main road that leads to the gate on Friday morning. Alarms were going off. He contacted his employees inside, who said they were safe and confirmed what Mr. Bergosh had feared: “It was not a drill.”
More than an hour later, Mr. Bergosh entered the base with other county officials, and they made their way to the scene of the shooting. He saw blood and spent casings. Emergency medical workers had been treating the wounded. A helicopter was on hand for evacuations.
Among the eight injured were two deputies who were shot, one in the arm and one in the knee, but were expected to recover. Two victims died on the base, and the other at Baptist Hospital. Their identities have not been released.
Pentagon officials found themselves investigating the second shooting on a military base in less than a week. On Wednesday, a United States sailor opened fire at a dry dock at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Oahu, Hawaii, fatally shooting two shipyard workers and injuring another before killing himself, the authorities said. That attack came as that installation was preparing for the 78th anniversary on Saturday of the Japanese attack that marked the United States’ entry into World War II.
In a statement on Friday, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said he was considering “several steps to ensure the security of our military installations and the safety of our service members and their families.”
The base at Pensacola, on Florida’s Panhandle, dates to the 1820s and is where the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team is based. Since World War I, most Navy and Marine Corps aviators and flight officers have begun their flight training there. Captain Kinsella said that about 200 international students are currently in training.
Weapons are not allowed on the base other than for security personnel, the captain said.
The gunman was believed to be enrolled in the base’s Aviation Preflight Indoctrination program. Students in the training hail from countries such as France, Italy and Norway, in addition to Saudi Arabia, which began sending trainees to the base in 1995. The Saudis usually train to fly either helicopters or F-15s, according to a Navy pilot familiar with the program. There are often a couple of foreign students in a class of 15 or so; Americans and Saudis go through their initial training together before branching off for separate training programs.
Dainya Lemoine, 26, a former Marine sergeant who lives about a mile and a half from the base, said that until earlier this year, she worked as an avionics instructor in the building where the shooting took place. Messages on her phone about an active shooter woke her up on Friday, followed by texts from former colleagues inside the Naval Air Training Technical Center, which she described as a two-story building about the size of a hangar.
“We have an active shooter and I think it is a foreign national that did it,” one text said at 7:15. a.m.
Ms. Lemoine said people inside had told him they sheltered in their locked classrooms, as they had been taught. As a young instructor, she said she had taught maybe “over 100” foreign students — from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Spain. She dealt with those students differently from her younger American students: Most of the foreign Middle Eastern students were officers, she said, and answered to a different command structure.
“They are a little bit more mature,” Ms. Lemoine said. “We don’t treat them the same we would treat an 18-year-old student coming from America.”
Still, he added, “I would not talk about deployments to Afghanistan or about things going on in politics. You are walking on egg shells with that whole topic.”
Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said he was convinced, based on what he had been told, that the shooting was a terrorist act, although he declined to say what led him to that belief.
“I’ve had some discussions with law enforcement on the ground, and my assessment after those discussions is that this is unequivocally an act of terror,” he said. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, also a Republican, said the attack should be considered terrorism, regardless of the gunman’s motivation. Both lawmakers called for reviewing future vetting of future foreign military trainees.
The fatal attack could have hardly have come at a worse time for Saudi Arabia. Since his father became king in 2015, Prince Mohammed has struggled to rebrand Saudi Arabia as open to the world and a key partner of the West in fighting extremism.
The kingdom is on the cusp of selling shares of its oil monopoly, Saudi Aramco, an initial public offering expected to be the world’s largest, and is preparing to assume the presidency of the G20, whose summit it is scheduled to host next year.
Early enthusiasm for Prince Mohammed and his promised reforms had already been tarnished after the kingdom’s disastrous military campaign in Yemen and the killing of a Saudi dissident writer, Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudi agents in Istanbul last year. But the kingdom appeared to be trying to move on.
Even if the authorities find no international terrorism connections to the Pensacola shooting, the attack could undermine how the kingdom is perceived abroad, and especially in the United States, where many remember the presence of several Saudi nationals among those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
One wild card for the Saudis is Mr. Trump, who anointed Prince Mohammed a key player in his plans for the Middle East and stood by the prince when anger over Mr. Khashoggi’s death grew in other parts of the United States government. If the new killings, this time of Americans, tars the kingdom in Mr. Trump’s eyes, it could leave Saudi Arabia with few remaining friends in Washington.
“My guess is that it will not have much impact,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a Saudi expert at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.
“People already suspicious of the Saudis, including lots of members of Congress, will see it as further proof that there is something wrong with the country,” Mr. Gause said in an email. “Those more inclined to see the country as a useful if sometimes difficult partner in American foreign policy in the Middle East will see it as the random act of a deranged individual.”
Kalyn Wolfe reported from Pensacola, Fla.; Patricia Mazzei from Miami; Eric Schmitt from Washington; and Christine Hauser from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard from Beirut; Vivian Yee from Medina, Saudi Arabia; Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Liam Stack from New York; and Adam Goldman and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Washington.
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