O’Hare Airport security chief Jeffrey Redding was fired Thursday from his $118,020-a-year job for failing to fully disclose the sexual harassment allegations that prompted the Illinois Tollway to get rid of him.
Redding has been on the hot seat ever since three of his aviation police officers boarded a United Airlines jet on April 9 and dragged a bloodied and flailing Dr. David Dao down the aisle for failing to give up his seat for a United crew member.
The incident is the subject of dual investigations by Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans and Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
But Redding’s firing has nothing to do with the viral video that has damaged Chicago’s reputation as an international tourist destination.
Instead, sources said the firing stems from Redding’s failure to fully disclose the circumstances surrounding his firing from the Illinois Tollway six months before he was hired to oversee a $19 million a year, 292-employee strong force of unarmed aviation security officers.
Late Thursday, Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman issued an emailed statement confirming the city’s decision to fire Redding, but did not explain why.
“Effective today, Jeffrey Redding has been terminated from his duties at the Chicago Department of Aviation,” Huffman was quoted as saying.
“Aviation Security Assistant Commissioner Kevin Zator will oversee safety and security operations for the CDA in the interim,” the statement said.
The Chicago Tribune reported last week that Redding was fired from the Tollway after a female toll collector who worked under him had accused Redding of sexual harassment.
The newspaper reported that the woman had accused Redding of seeking sex and money in exchange for work-related favors.
Redding did not respond to repeated phone calls for comment. He has acknowledged having a sexual relationship with the woman but insisted to the Tribune that it was consensual.
When Redding was hired last year to oversee O’Hare security, he told Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans that he lost his job at the Tollway in a political housecleaning by then-newly elected Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
But Evans has since learned that was not the whole truth, City Hall sources said. “Ginger got information that made her question the veracity of his earlier statements,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous. “She either talked to him or got some information that made her question whether he was forthright about the Tollway issues.”
Redding’s firing still leaves open the larger question about whether or not the city’s unarmed force of aviation security officers will continue to exist in the wake of the United fiasco.
Sources said that question has yet to be resolved and will be complicated by opposition from the Service Employees Union Local 73, which represents the 292 officers.
At a City Council hearing on the United fiasco, Redding was unclear about the jurisdictional issues that have long surrounded O’Hare security.
Under questioning by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) about the “general orders” that apply to aviation security officers, Redding said there were none, only “standard operating procedures.” Burke then asked for the “standard operating procedure” that applies to use of force.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” Redding said.
Burke was incensed. “So you’re the deputy commissioner and you’re in charge of safety and security for Chicago’s airports. . . . And you’re not aware of whether or not there is a use of force order . . . that is distributed to your officers,” Burke said.
Redding replied that the standard operating procedure for aviation security officers dates back to 2008 and it’s in the process of being updated. “We’re going through that piece-by-piece right now,” he said.
Redding also revealed that it isn’t the city’s policy to “interfere” when airlines have customer service issues. But when a security issue arises, aviation security officers are told to detain the customer until Chicago Police officers arrive.
That’s not what happened on April 9. Four passengers were involuntarily bumped from a flight from O’Hare to Louisville after the plane was already boarded, but Dao refused to leave his seat.
That’s when three aviation cops boarded the plane and dragged the doctor down the aisle. According to his attorneys, Dao suffered a concussion and will require reconstructive surgery on his sinuses.
Redding is a former Chicago Police officer whose 20-year career included stints in the Bureau of Internal Affairs and at the inspector general’s office. His personnel record at CPD included no similar allegations of sexual harassment, sources said.
His job as chief of operations at the Illinois Tollway paid $33,000 more than his current city salary, records show.