Smollett’s lawyers won’t get access to records of former top cop’s firing, judge rules
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.”
Actor Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in February.