Chicago’s largest LGBTQ center hired a security firm owned by a police officer accused of attacking an African American security guard at a Boystown bar and repeatedly calling him the N-word while off-duty in 2013, according to Cook County court records.
The Center on Halsted’s longtime security contractor, Walsh Security, is owned by 19th district police Officer Thomas Walsh, who was accused in a lawsuit filed by the security guard of leaving him with a rotator-cuff injury.
The Center on Halsted, which provides health and well-being services to LGBTQ youth and adults, says it’s visited by more than 1,000 people every day.
It paid the security company more than $130,000 last year, according to a filing it made with the Internal Revenue Service.
“The Center on Halsted has amassed great financial resources in the name of LGBTQ equality and racial equity, so now we expect them to embody their stated values” by firing Walsh Security, says Jamie Frazier, lead pastor of the Lighthouse Church of Chicago and founder of the Lighthouse Foundation, an LGBTQ group.
The Lighthouse Foundation was formed by black LGBTQ activists who protested in May after a tumultuous Memorial Day weekend in Boystown during which Progress Bar tried to ban rap music and the costume shop Beatnix sold a Confederate flag vest.
According to court records in the since-settled lawsuit filed by security guard James Matthews, Walsh attacked him Nov. 29, 2013, at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, 3169 N. Halsted St.
Matthews filed suit in 2015 against Walsh, Lucky Horseshoe and the city.
In December 2014, Walsh told investigators from the city’s old Independent Police Review Authority he didn’t strike Matthews, according to interview transcripts filed with the lawsuit.
Walsh told investigators he was being attacked by another bar patron when Matthews came up behind him and put his arm around Walsh’s neck.
In Matthews’ statement to investigators, he said he tried to intervene when he saw Walsh punch another patron in the face, then Walsh attacked him.
“I just turned with my body [...] and shrugged ’em off me, whoever it was,” Walsh told investigators. “Never put hands on ’em. Never punched ’em.”
Walsh acknowledged using “some profanity” and said, “I did call ’em a [N-word], which I regret.”
Matthews settled the lawsuit with Walsh for an undisclosed amount in 2018, according to court records.
Matthews also received $2,000 in worker’s compensation from the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge but nothing from the city. A judge found that Matthews’ worker’s compensation payment and settlement with Walsh released the bar and the city from liability.
Despite the settlement, IPRA sustained three of four charges against Walsh in the incident and recommended a 60-day suspension of the officer, according to IPRA records. Walsh appealed the suspension, and IPRA’s findings remain under review by the Chicago Police Department, according to city records.
Walsh wouldn’t comment.
Frazier asked the Chicago Police Board on Sept. 19 to make a decision in Walsh’s case. So did Virginia White, pastor for outreach at Root and Branch Church in Logan Square, and Sarah Lusche, co-pastor of Hyde Park Union Church.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, who was at the meeting, said it was the first that he had heard of the case.
Kim Fountain, the Center on Halsted’s chief operating officer, says after some initial trial and error following Walsh Security’s hiring, the company “has responded to every request,” including having Walsh attend anti-racism training after details of the Lucky Horseshoe incident came out.
In response to criticism, Fountain says Walsh agreed his guards would no longer carry guns or wear uniforms. She says he also agreed to diversify his security team to more closely reflect the LGBTQ community.
“When I talked to [Walsh] about [the Lucky Horseshoe incident], he said, ‘I used some language,’ ” Fountain says. “I told him that he used racist language, and he said, ‘I used racist language, yes, I did.’ He’s able to take responsibility for those things and understand why what he did was wrong.”
Frazier says that’s not enough.
“Officer Thomas Walsh — after what happened in 2013, as well as his multiple years of incompetence — should be fired,” says Frazier, whose organization gave Modesto Tico Valle, the Center on Halsted’s chief executive officer, a letter Sept. 3 asking to meet to talk about security.
In a response to the Lighthouse Foundation on Sept. 12, Valle agreed to meet with Frazier and said the center is responsive to its staff and patrons: “We stand together on common goals.”
The meeting will happen at 11 a.m. Oct. 5 at the Center on Halsted.
According to Fountain, the organization already was “looking for other alternatives” to Walsh Security.
“I’m not going to pull [Walsh] out and put a temp agency in there,” Fountain says. “These kids rely on his security guards. Why would I take a group of primarily youth of color experiencing homelessness who have developed solid, good relationships with security officers and say, ‘I’m pulling them out of your life.’ ”
She says the center is committed to addressing racism at the facility as well as more broadly the LGBTQ community and unsuccessfully tried to get the Lighthouse Foundation involved in that conversation.
According to Fountain, the Center on Halsted added racial equity and inclusion to its strategic plan two years ago, created a new post of director of racial equity and inclusion to oversee that work, hired a consultant to get staff feedback and form an equity leadership group and shut down for two days in May for a staff meeting.
“My whole point of having these discussions isn’t to say the Center on Halsted is a beacon of racial equity and inclusion,” Fountain says. “But we are really aspiring to do this work well and correctly.”
Frazier says the Center on Halsted developed its equity and inclusion policy without hearing from the people who are most affected and points out that the person hired as racial equity and inclusion director resigned after just a few months.
“The center needs to be engaging and seeking external accountability from the victimized community,” Frazier says. “Since Officer Walsh physically assaulted a black man and called him the N-word several times, then it is from the black, queer community that they should seek counsel.”
Frazier says he wants the center to recognize “it has been morally wrong to continue to employ Walsh Security” and to come up with a security plan that doesn’t include hiring “another problematic, police-run security firm.”