Despite the promise made to the victim, the Park District boss waited weeks before filing a complaint for sexual harassment
Chicago Park District Superintendent. Mike Kelly assured a female lifeguard that he would launch an immediate investigation into her complaints of physical abuse, sexual harassment, and drug and alcohol use by lifeguards in Oak Street Beach, but waited six weeks – when a complaint more graphic was referred to him by Mayor Lori. Lightfoot – to control the internal probe.
“Thank you for sending this report. I am passing it on to our Inspector General for an independent investigation, ”Kelly wrote to the young woman in a February 7, 2020 email reviewed by the Sun-Times.
“I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will and I take your statements very seriously. Thank you for your courage and call for change.
Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons declined to make Kelly available for an interview. She also did not answer specific questions. Instead, she referred to a June 23 letter posted on the Park District website in which Kelly says he took “immediate action” when he was made aware of allegations of misconduct, although the specific claims are not set out in this letter.
But sources told the Sun-Times that the inspector general’s office did not receive the February allegations until mid-March.
Despite Kelly’s promise, he sat on the February complaint, which named the daughter of a senior Park District official as involved in the alleged hazing. It was only after Lightfoot forwarded a complaint from a second woman to Kelly on March 17 that the superintendent asked Elaine Little, the Park District inspector general, to initiate an internal investigation.
The delay is against Park District rules, which require that suspected wrongdoing be reported immediately to the Inspector General. The same applies to the ordinance creating the office of the inspector general. The Park District policy on sexual harassment requires that allegations be reported “as soon as possible”, or within five business days, to human resources.
The Park District has a core of lifeguards who serve as employees year round, occupying indoor pools during the colder months and outdoor pools and beaches during the summer. These full-time employees are supplemented by seasonal lifeguards who work between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The young woman’s 11-page complaint to Kelly in February 2020 describes a frat-boy atmosphere in Oak Street Beach in the summer of 2019, perpetrated by specific rescuers she named.
During a “rookie initiation,” the woman said, garbage bags were put around the necks of newly hired rescuers “if you need to throw up.” When the woman said she was scared, she was told, “You should be.”
The recruits were given “two shots of jello” and asked to drink them before singing an obscene, crude and sexually explicit “fight song”.
“The rescuers made us sing over and over and stay in the push-up position until we got it right,” she wrote. “I refused several times because of how degrading and improper it is.”
The woman claimed that when she and another female rescuer refused to drink two pints of beer stuck to their hands, a man started “grabbing me and trying to swallow a bottle of vodka by my throat.” “.
Two first-time rescuers who finished their beer “ran for the trash and vomited for about five minutes at a stretch – to the point that one of them passed out and only woke up later.”
All night long she wrote, “Bottles of alcohol were forced on me and pens containing weed were put in my face. Refusal would lead to “rot”, in which other rescuers would leave her at a post for hours without a break. Telling other guards to stop joking about suicide, declining invitations to later parties, or refusing to get high at work with others would also lead to “rot.”
The young woman says she continued to pay the price for refusing to party with colleagues.
“During the rest of the summer the names bitch, bitch, bitch, p — y and c – t became my usual name that several rescuers called me,” said the complaint, reviewed by the Sun-Times. Other girls were systematically called “fat”.
The torture also did not stop when the job was finished. Rescuers who dared to resign were subjected to a “shake and bake” – other rescuers dig a hole, throw them in and sandblast them in the face. “It’s always the guys who catch the girls,” she wrote.
A male guard hit everyone in the back of the neck “like a joke”. After hitting the complainant “extremely hard”, she pushed him away and told him to leave her alone.
“I didn’t know what was to come next. He charged towards me so fast and ended up slamming / throwing me against the metal wall in the guard room and calling me a p — y and a bitch. He was also very high during this time. The push left a “giant bruise” on his leg.
Drug use continued in service. Sometimes, she wrote, the guards would sneak into the guard room to break through the grass, leaving only one guard to watch the beach.
“It was sometimes difficult to breathe in the guard room because of the strong smell,” she wrote. “I saw the guards hiding their pens in their sleeves and smoking it through the sleeve.”
The tests didn’t stop them either, she said, as some rescuers “rigged their drug tests with other people’s pee.”
The final indignity for her came to the Oak Street Beach banquet, hosted by the senior guards. Fearing that she would have to leave or suffer even worse treatment, she took her sister with her for protection.
For her problem, she received a “broken oar prize”, invented by the guards for the person they considered the worst rescuer. Other guards have been called “beach bitch”, “beach bitch” and “beach bitch”.
“After the awards ceremony, the banquet lasted three hours and not only were many guards drugged, underage guards were drinking alcohol and many girls were caught in a way they shouldn’t have. be caught, ”she wrote.
Eventually she quit. The woman said she decided to report the atmosphere of abuse because “someone could be extremely hurt … A girl could be sexually harassed or raped by one of the rescuers who are high and in a mental state. incorrect. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to harm themselves or even kill themselves because of the way they are treated. The rescuers made me feel bad about myself and even told me to kill myself because it would be funny if I did.
She ended her complaint to Kelly:
“Please make a change and prevent the next rescuer from being treated like I did.” Someone’s life could be on the line.
About six weeks later, another woman wrote to the mayor describing “a toxic environment” and “a huge incidence of sexual violence in the Park District – from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape. … Those who want to express themselves face severe criticism.
A seasonal lifeguard for six years, the second woman said she was sexually assaulted at the age of 17 “by another employee in a higher position than me”.
Three colleagues, she said, weren’t surprised because similar things had happened to them.
“When I tried to speak, I was called a ‘fucking bitch’ and a ‘bitch’ not only by my co-workers but also by the managers.”
The second woman claimed that sexual abuse was rampant, but few complaints are filed because there is “little confidence in the management of the Chicago Park District Lifeguard Service.”
“Employees see how perpetrators of sexual violence are either promoted to managerial positions or allowed to continue working in their current positions, even after complaints have been filed about them,” the second woman wrote to Lightfoot in a two-page letter read by the Sun-Times.
“There is what I would call a ‘code of silence’ in the Park District, in which people in positions of authority will support each other no matter what. ”
In an explosive report released last month, the Park District Inspector General described how about half a dozen female lifeguards at Park District pools and beaches were sexually harassed and assaulted by three male colleagues.
His report hinted at a cover-up.
Since then, according to sources, the investigation first disclosed by WBEZ-FM (91.5) has extended to at least 15 female rescuers.