Smol­lett’s lawyers won’t get ac­cess to records of for­mer top cop’s fir­ing, judge rules

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY JON SEI­DEL, FED­ERAL COURTS RE­PORTER jsei­del@sun­times.com | @Sei­delCon­tent

In a rul­ing at the cross­roads of two Chicago scan­dals, a fed­eral mag­is­trate judge said Mon­day he would not or­der the city to share records re­lated to the fir­ing of for­mer Chicago Po­lice Supt. Ed­die John­son with lawyers for ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett.

Smol­lett’s lawyers ar­gue John­son is “a likely trial wit­ness” in a fed­eral civil case in­volv­ing Smol­lett’s pros­e­cu­tion for al­legedly stag­ing a hate crime. They tried to get the records af­ter Mayor Lori Light­foot said John­son had been “in­ten­tion­ally dis­hon­est,” in­sist­ing the records “re­late to John­son’s cred­i­bil­ity and char­ac­ter.”

But U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Su­nil Har­jani said the records from John­son’s fir­ing late last year are ir­rel­e­vant to Smol­lett’s civil case, in which the city is seek­ing re­im­burse­ment for its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Smol­lett’s hate crime claims in Jan­uary 2019.

“This case is only about whether Smol­lett faked a hate crime against him­self and wrongly in­duced the CPD to ex­pend time, money and re­sources to in­ves­ti­gate that al­legedly false claim,” Har­jani wrote. “In­for­ma­tion re­lated to John­son’s ter­mi­na­tion 11 months af­ter Smol­lett’s at­tack for con­duct re­lated to John­son be­ing found asleep in his car is not rel­e­vant to the city’s claims.”

Har­jani’s rul­ing comes one week af­ter the city re­leased a trove of doc­u­ments and footage pro­vid­ing more de­tails about an Oc­to­ber in­ci­dent in which John­son was found asleep at the wheel of his SUV near his home in Bridge­port. The mayor said John­son later ad­mit­ted he had been out to din­ner with friends and had a few drinks be­fore dis­miss­ing his driver and tak­ing him­self home.

The mayor wound up fir­ing John­son — one month be­fore he was sched­uled to re­tire af­ter more than 30 years with the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment — say­ing he had lied to her and the pub­lic about what hap­pened that night.

Still, Light­foot has said the fi­nal re­port from In­spec­tor Gen­eral Joe Fer­gu­son about John­son will re­main un­der wraps.

Smol­lett’s lawyers have been seek­ing records from the in­ci­dent for months. Smol­lett, who is Black and gay, told po­lice in Jan­uary 2019 that he had been jumped by two white men near his home in Streeter­ville. Smol­lett wound up be­ing ac­cused of fak­ing the at­tack. A 16-count in­dict­ment filed against him in March 2019 was tossed just weeks later by Cook County pros­e­cu­tors, spark­ing crit­i­cism.

At­tor­ney Dan Webb was ap­pointed spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor to look into the case. He wound up fil­ing a new six-count in­dict­ment against Smol­lett in Fe­bru­ary. Smol­lett has pleaded not guilty.

Mean­while, the city sued Smol­lett to re­cover $130,106 for its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Smol­lett’s claims. As they gath­ered ev­i­dence in the case, Smol­lett’s lawyers sought doc­u­ments re­lated to the fir­ing of John­son, who led CPD when Smol­lett made his claim.

The lawyers sought the records from the city, the in­spec­tor gen­eral and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant hired by the mayor.

Har­jani ruled Mon­day that John­son “was not in­volved in the day-to-day de­ci­sion mak­ing or ac­tual in­ves­ti­gat­ing of Smol­lett’s claims. Nor did he di­rect or man­age the Smol­lett in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The city may pub­licly re­lease more in­for­ma­tion about John­son’s ter­mi­na­tion, as it has re­cently done with cer­tain doc­u­ments and body cam­era footage re­lated to the in­ci­dent that led to the fir­ing of John­son,’’ Har­jani wrote. ‘‘But the court will not or­der it to do so in this case.”

AP FILE PHOTO

Ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett leaves the Leighton Crim­i­nal Court­house in Fe­bru­ary.

Ed­die John­son

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