CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson spoke for first time about shocking sexual assault allegations made by one of his subordinates when he was top cop.
Cynthia Donald is suing Johnson, accusing him of using his position as police superintendent to abuse and assault her. In a filing late last week, Johnson and his attorneys responded to the allegations, which include verbal abuse, intimidation and sexual assault.
In a sit-down interview with ABC7 Chicago, Johnson had a much different story to tell: he claims he was in a consensual relationship with Donald.
"I think now is the right time," Johnson said.
More than a year since he last sat down for a television interview, Johnson responded to accusations he verbally and sexually abused his former driver.
CHATMAN: Some of the details in the lawsuit are very graphic, very disturbing. She accuses you of sexually assaulting her multiple times, harassing her, calling her demeaning names. How do you respond to these accusations?
JOHNSON: You know, listen. For 60 years on this planet, 31 of which I was a Chicago police officer, and the last almost four as a superintendent, I've never been accused of anything like that, I've never forced anyone to do anything to do what they didn't want to do, that's just not my character. It's just not. When people say to me, 'Why should I believe you?' I can't tell you what to believe. I can only tell you who I am.
The suit against Johnson and the city of Chicago alleges that Johnson carried out many unwanted sexual acts and told her "now you belong to me."
CHATMAN: Were those words uttered? Did you ever say that?
JOHNSON: No. When the allegations first came out, it was some days before I actually read it because it's difficult to hear somebody say something like that about you when it's not true and it's difficult to read it. So it's hard for me to even imagine having to talk about this right now. It goes against everything that I stand for, everything. I've never been an abusive person and I certainly never abused her.
Johnson said he wants the public to believe him, despite the very high-profile incident in which he was found slumped at the wheel of his car in October 2019.
Johnson maintains that he'd only had a few drinks that night, but an investigation by Chicago's inspector general said he had the equivalent of 10.
Johnson said there was an issue with his medications, but claims he was not drunk.
"Like I've said, I had been drinking that night. But I never had an alcohol problem ever. I'll go weeks, months without having a drink," Johnson said.
The incident ultimately cost him his job. In a fiery news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Johnson's termination by saying Johnson lied to her and the public.
"It has become clear that Johnson engaged in a series of actions that are intolerable for any leader in a position of trust," Lightfoot said at the time.
The inspector general's report claimed Johnson and Donald had been drinking at a bar downtown earlier that night. Johnson still maintains he was truthful with the mayor.
"I knew there was an investigation, but she was also my boss, so I was trying to tell her what happened without going into a lot of detail," Johnson said. "I know from my training, you don't go into a whole lot of detail before you talk to the investigators."
And while he denies he sexually assaulted Cynthia Donald, Johnson does admit he betrayed his wife by having an affair with Donald.
CHATMAN: With you being Ms. Donald's boss and she being your subordinate, is a consensual relationship even possible given that power dynamic?
JOHNSON: I think when you have adults, adults know exactly what's going on, so we'll have to get into the legalese of all of that.
Johnson's legal team defends the notion of a consensual relationship between their client and Donald.
"No HR director ever wants a subordinate relationship with a superior because of the ramifications if the relationship goes awry, but that doesn't create legal liability," said Mike Leonard, Johnson's attorney. "To create legal liability there has to be a non-consensual aspect to their relationship. But in this case, it was completely consensual."
His attorneys say Donald is suing Johnson and the city for monetary gain.
"To our knowledge, we are not aware of any criminal charges being filed against Eddie, and it's revealing in that her first claim is for damages and not to report this to authorities for any criminal charges," Leonard said.
Johnson said he and Donald mutually decided to end their intimate relationship in 2018, but remained close friends.
In her lawsuit, Donald describes a very different conclusion. She claims the abuse continued until Johnson was fired and that she felt stalked by Johnson, who sent text messages until she feared for her safety.
"I'm hurt. I'm hurt and I'm disappointed. None of those allegations are true. Why would she lie? I think that's the million dollar question. I can surmise why, but I can't get in her head. I can't," Johnson said. "Honestly, I actually pray for her."
More than a year after his termination, Johnson said his biggest concern is regaining the trust of his wife and family - and supporters.
"Look, I've tried to be the best person I can be. I strive to do that every day, but like I said, I'm not perfect and I apologize to those people. I'm sure they're disappointed. But I'm human and unfortunately humans are flawed individuals and we make mistakes and I made a mistake and I'm not running from that. One mistake shouldn't define who I am," Johnson said.
In response to Johnson's claims about what happened, Donald's attorney provided this statement: Former Superintendent Eddie Johnson has now admitted in his answer to Officer Cynthia Donald's lawsuit that he had, in his own words, "an inappropriate relationship" in his official capacity with his then-subordinate, Officer Donald. Notably, Mr. Johnson also claims that Mayor Lori Lightfoot "publicly and falsely accused [Mr. Johnson] of being untruthful" about the events leading to his termination from the Chicago Police Department. He alleges that Mayor Lightfoot and the City of Chicago are liable for defaming and slandering him. We very much look forward to deposing Mr. Johnson and Mayor Lightfoot to determine which one of them is propagating misinformation and then presenting the evidence to the jury.
As for Johnson and his attorneys, they believe the evidence they'll provide - including text messages - will prove that the relationship between Johnson and Donald was consensual.