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Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson fired after ‘series of ethical lapses,’ mayor says

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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.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announces his retirement after more than three years leading the department on Nov. 7, 2019, in Chicago.Teresa Crawford / AP

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.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel speak at a press conference on the Jussie Smollett case on March 26, 2019NBC News

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.

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PG&E announces $13.5-billion settlement for California fires

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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

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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)

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Saudi Trainee Kills 3 in Shooting at Florida Naval Base

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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.

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.

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.

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