Inspector General reports detail culture of abuse within aquatics department at Chicago Park District

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Two Inspector General reports detail a culture of abuse, humiliation and harassment within the aquatics department at the Chicago Park District.

The reports said underage victims were given alcohol by other lifeguards at after-hours parties. In some cases, sexual assaults occurred. In others, attempts were made.

In all of the cases, the victims reported being harassed by other co-workers after the incidents and faced claims of retaliation by supervisors and co-workers, according to the report.

Allegations dated back, in some cases, for five years. Others were brought to former Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly’s attention and then were essentially sat on for six months. Kelly resigned on Oct. 9 in wake of the scandal.

In one case, a parent emailed Kelly directly about a so-called “fight song” written on the wall of the lifeguard facility. The fight song, according to the reports, are filled with obscenities, derogatory names and boasts of Oak Street’s superiority.

Hazing and on-the-job drug use were among the other allegations. One of the reports state that former Supt. Kelly and current Chief Programs Officer Alonzo Williams knew of the allegations and allegedly failed to act.

Parks Board President Avis Lavelle said the culture will change.

“I don’t think anyone on the board has any clue of what was going on here,” she said. “We owe an apology.”

Mayor Lightfoot issued the following statement.

The results of the independent investigation released today confirm the accounts of the many young women who bravely stepped forward to reveal their truth, and called for righteous accountability. As I have repeatedly said, it was critical that this investigation of allegations regarding serious misconduct, and in some instances, criminal conduct, be treated with integrity and conducted with full independence.  

I am outraged and appalled by these findings, particularly those that show that the people entrusted to lead the Park District were aware of these heinous allegations of bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, and assault and chose to do very little in response. It is clear that all the way to the top of Park District senior leadership absolutely failed to take these complaints seriously. The investigations themselves were, until recently, also hampered by unacceptable layers of incompetence.  

To the survivors, this investigation is the first step in the process of bringing justice, accountability, and healing. I made a promise that you will be believed, abusers will be held accountable, and that we will change the culture of our institutions to minimize any opportunity for harm to occur. This is the moment where that process begins. To the thousands of residents and families who rely on the Chicago Park District for high-quality programming every single day, I am working each and every day with the Interim leadership team and the Board to restore your trust in our world-class park system.   

To our Parks employees, you deserve leaders who share your closely held values of protecting our children against predators and believing survivors of sexual abuse. Lastly, I want to thank the interim CEO and General Superintendent, Rosa Escareño, and the Park District Board for seeing these investigations to their conclusion, leading with transparency by releasing the reports, and taking swift and deliberate action in light of their findings.   

As long as I am Mayor, I am committed to ensuring that leadership at every level of municipal government takes allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power seriously, and to doing everything in my power to protect employees, residents, and patrons.

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