Chicago's new police chief has rocky start to term

Chicago’s new police chief was forced to face questions over his fiancee’s possible involvement in a promotion-cheating scheme, a revelation further shaking up his difficult transition in to the top job.

Interim Supt. Eddie Johnson, who did not apply for the job but was named chief after Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to ignore the recommendations of an appointment panel, said he has no knowledge of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the promotion to lieutenant of his fiancee.

The city’s independent watchdog, Inspector General Joe Ferguson, is reported to be investigating allegations that the senior officer involved in preparing the subject matter for examinations and involved in the final review of candidates held study meetings with select officers, including now-Lt. Nakia Fenner.

This fresh swirl of potential scandal comes during a tumultuous time for the Chicago Police Department, the mayor, and the city, where so far this year 156 people have been homicide victims 818 have been wounded in shootings.

In the hours before, during and after President Obama’s in-and out-visit Thursday to his adopted hometown of Chicago, three people were murdered and 12 injured in shootings, including five sprayed with gunfire as they exited a party bus in the city’s South Shore neighborhood.

Johnson, described by City Hall as the “complete package,” is tasked with bolstering sapped morale within the force, tackling the carnage on the streets and mending broken fences with the city’s African-American communities. Johnson is black.

He was appointed following the forced resignation of predecessor, Garry McCarthy, who stepped down following the November release of a video showing a police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. The officer was not charged until more than a year after the shooting, and only after a judge ordered the release of the video.

 At a CPD graduation ceremony Friday, Johnson said: “I never thought that the mistakes or poor judgement of a few can do so much to undermine the reputation and the integrity of so many good officers who put their lives on the line each and every day and do their jobs as professionals.”

 At the same ceremony, 36 new lieutenants were promoted, including Lt. Fenner and two others named in an anonymous complaint to the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

The complaint accused Deputy Chief Eugene Williams of sharing “information that was privileged” to sergeants in a weekly study group ahead of the written examinations..

Online news site DNAinfo obtained a copy of the Internal Affairs report, and reported this week that the city’s Inspector General, Joe Ferguson, is now investigating the claims.

 "I've never been informed of any formal investigation. You're telling me more than I knew,” Johnson said when forced to address the fact his fiancee is one of the officers named as being involved in the study group.

Complicating matters, Williams was one of three short-listed for the job of superintendent by an appointments panel that spent more than three months looking for suitable candidates, at a reported cost of $500,000.

There is a possibility of a second round in the appointments process, but no candidate is likely to go through the motions when it is clear who the mayor wants in the job.

“Why would any other candidate put himself in that position? It makes no sense. They’re going through the motions because it’s clear who the mayor wants,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of  Washington-based research group Police Executive Research Forum, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cedric Alexander, one of three short-listed for the job, revealed details of what happened ahead of Johnson’s appointment. He told a local television channel that an interview with Emanuel last week left him so insulted he asked for his name to be withdrawn from consideration.

Alexander, also African American, then claimed Emanuel called back, and then the mayor flew to Washington, D.C., so the two men could meet again. (Alexander, the top cop in DeKalb County, Georgia, also advises President Obama on policing issues.) Alexander claims the mayor offered him the job, only to find out two days later from a newspaper Emanuel’s decision to pass over all three finalists and appoint Johnson.

Emanuel denied this, claiming he had multiple conversations with individuals but that “Eddie Johnson has what I’m looking for.”