Chicago’s mayor said Friday that the city’s top police officer told her he’d had “a couple of drinks with dinner” before he fell asleep at a stop sign while driving home, an incident that the chief contends was related to a change in his blood pressure medication.
CBS Chicago reports. Officers responded to a 911 call from a passerby reporting that someone was asleep in a vehicle at a stop sign.told reporters he felt he might faint as he was driving home from dinner, so he pulled over to rest not far from his home in Bridgeport, Illinois,
Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times that she agreed with Johnson’s decision to request an internal affairs investigation of the Thursday incident to assure the public he’s not trying to hide anything about his actions.
“It was the right thing to call for an investigation…” Lightfoot told the paper. “We’ll see how that plays itself out.”
Sources told to CBS Chicago that Johnson admitted in a conversation with the mayor later on Thursday that he’d had “a couple drinks” before he was found passed out behind the wheel.
After the newspaper’s report, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement that “While we have no indication of impropriety at this time, this question can only be answered by the internal affairs investigation.”
Department rules prohibit police officers from drinking alcohol while on duty or in uniform, but it was not clear if Johnson was in uniform at the time.
On Thursday evening Johnson told reporters that he was driving home at about 12:30 that morning, after having let his driver go home to his family, when he felt lightheaded. He said he pulled over and fell asleep.
The responding officers found Johnson slumped over but allowed him to drive home and did not administer a breathalyzer test or a field sobriety test. Johnson said officers do such tests only when a motorist appears impaired or officers smell alcohol or cannabis.
He said the medical episode was the result of not following his doctor’s orders.
“When he adjusted my medication, I took the old medication for high blood pressure, but I failed to put the new medication in,” he said.
Johnson has had a series of health issues since taking the top post at CPD, CBS Chicago reports. In June, he was treated for a small blood clot that was found in his lung during a routine test.
In August 2017, he received a kidney transplant from his son. He fainted at an awards ceremony a few days after returning to work that October, after suffering a blood pressure issue.
When he fell ill at the 2017 news conference, a spokesman said he had taken blood pressure medication on an empty stomach and felt sick, but that the issue was not related to his kidney disease.
Johnson was diagnosed with kidney disease more than 30 years ago.
In her comments, Lightfoot said that Johnson told her about how he had just changed medication, and said she has “no reason to doubt” his account of what happened.
“We know he’s had some medical issues,” she told the Sun-Times. “He’s on the other side of a kidney operation, which is obviously very, very serious. There have been some issues with high blood pressure, and so forth.”
She also said that she knows from dealing with her parents that certain medications have side effects. “So I take him at his word,” she said.
She also did not condemn Johnson for drinking at dinner. “He’s a grown man,” she said. “He had a couple of drinks with dinner.”
Johnson has been trying to restore public confidence in the department, which was shattered by the 2015 release of the now-infamous dashcam video of the fatal 2014 police shooting of black teenager. Both events occurred before he became superintendent.
The investigation into Johnson will be handled by the public integrity unit within the department’s internal affairs division, Guglielmi said Friday. That unit is comprised of officers who are detailed to the FBI and work out of the FBI’s Chicago office.
“If they have any sense that there was any impropriety, they would refer the case to outside investigative agencies,” Guglielmi added.