Fred Waller, the Chicago Police Department’s third-in-command, was suspended for 28 days for using the word “rape” during a meeting at police headquarters to express his feelings about officers being moved out of police districts to other units.
“Grope me, don’t rape me,” Waller said at the Nov. 19 meeting, police records show.
He made the remark before a group that included federal monitor Maggie Hickey and Christina Anderson, the police official riding herd over court-ordered reforms. Anderson filed an internal affairs complaint against Waller over the comment.
Waller, who announced last month he will retire Saturday, is the department’s chief of operations, in charge of the officers in the city’s 22 police districts. It’s rare for someone in the highest reaches of the department to be suspended.
Waller, 58, is among a handful of top police officials who’ve announced retirements or been transferred out of key positions in recent months.
The highest-level police official to be disciplined in recent years was Eddie Johnson, demoted last year from superintendent to his service rank of lieutenant after Mayor Lori Lightfoot said he lied about an incident in which he was found slumped over the wheel of his car. An investigation found he’d been drinking. Johnson retired in December.
Waller’s statement and the investigation that followed are detailed in more than 200 pages of documents from the internal affairs investigation that the Chicago Sun-Times obtained from the department in response to a public records request.
Anderson, deputy director of the department’s Office of Reform Management, said in her complaint against Waller that she was embarrassed by his comment and found it disrespectful.
Anderson’s unit is in charge of carrying out reforms under the federal consent decree reached amid the outrage that followed the release of video of the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a police officer.
Hickey also was at the Nov. 19 meeting to discuss the allocation of officers, as were Deputy Supt. Barbara West and First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio, who’s retiring.
Some of the 18 people in attendance said they were stunned by Waller’s statement and that the room went silent, according to the internal affairs report.
Waller told an investigator his comment was “crude and improper” but that he was trying to make a point that “resources taken from patrol aren’t given back to patrol.”
After Waller made the rape comment, Hickey told him, “Don’t ever say that again,” according to witnesses quoted in the internal affairs report.
Anderson later told an investigator: “As a manager, I was concerned for the well-being of persons under my command who were in the room and who may or may not have traumatic histories with, I hope not, but I just don’t know if they’ve had traumatic histories with that kind of abuse.”
Waller told an investigator he later apologized to Anderson, Hickey and others who were at the meeting, the records show.
On March 3, the sergeant who investigated the incident recommended Waller be suspended for 14 days. Six days later, though, police brass doubled the penalty, to 28 days, according to the records, which don’t say why.
Charlie Beck was interim police superintendent at the time. Supt. David Brown was sworn in the following month.
In an interview Wednesday, Waller said the suspension didn’t have anything to do with his retirement, which he said was based on changes in insurance and “the grind” of the job. He said he wasn’t forced out and that he continued to work despite the suspension, instead giving up vacation days and personal days, so he could help the department address the city’s rising violence.
Waller said the punishment was “somewhat harsh” but that he understood “the message they wanted to send.”
“I was trying to make an emphatic point. Do I advocate rape? No. It wasn’t meant in that context,” he said. “Looking back on it, inappropriate.”
Waller said he considered himself a “watchdog” for the patrol division, to make sure its resources weren’t depleted. “Everybody, when they need bodies, patrol is where you go. But we also need those bodies to man those districts,” he said.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former police officer who chairs the city council’s Committee on Public Safety, said the 28-day suspension was appropriate.
“It’s egregious,” Taliaferro said of the rape comment. “It’s offensive to those who have suffered at the hands of being raped. This is coming from a higher-ranking law enforcement official who deals with the investigation of women and men who have suffered as victims.”
John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, called the suspension absurdly long and an “excuse” to force out Waller.
“It’s pretty disgusting that they would hammer him to that level,” the union president said.
Waller’s concern about stripping the patrol division of officers was “well understood and 100% spot-on,” Catanzara said.