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Three Chicago Park District lifeguards sexually harassed, assaulted female co-workers, watchdog says

The allegations are in a report by the park district’s inspector general. One underage rookie lifeguard told investigators she was sexually assaulted” by a male lifeguard who drove her home from work in 2018.

The lifeguard stand at North Avenue Beach remains empty on June 22, 2020, during the shutdown ordered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lifeguard stand at North Avenue Beach.
Getty

About six female lifeguards at Chicago Park District pools and beaches were sexually harassed and assaulted by male co-workers, with some of the harassment taking place in front of children, an internal investigation has concluded.

The explosive allegations, including an attempted rape, are in a report released Thursday by Park District Inspector General Elaine Little that hints at a cover-up.

All three male lifeguards who were accused no longer work for the Park District. Two resigned during the investigation to avoid being fired. The third resigned earlier this year.

Of the six victims, two have filed police reports. The others, including the victim of the attempted rape, did not file criminal charges, fearing retaliation.

The allegations were first reported by WBEZ-FM (91.5).

Sources said the first sexual misconduct complaint was referred to Park District Supt. Mike Kelly in February 2020. But it wasn’t until a second complaint was referred to Kelly by the mayor’s office that the superintendent forwarded it to Little for a full investigation.

As always with internal investigations, neither the victims nor the subjects of the investigation are identified in the report. Nor does the report say where the alleged attacks occurred. Other investigative sources have identified the locations as Welles Park, Jefferson Park and North Avenue Beach and said the attacks occurred as early as 2016 and as recently as 2019.

Among the allegations in the graphic report:

• A veteran male lifeguard also accused of drinking while on duty at North Avenue Beach forced an underage rookie female lifeguard to perform oral sex on him before he tried to rape her, then physically threatened both her and a friend she told about the attack.

In “detailed and corroborated testimony,” the woman told investigators the man “sexually abused and sexually assaulted” her while driving her home from work in 2018. Although the man had “repeatedly sexually harassed his victim while they were on duty together,” she “reluctantly took him up on his offer” of a ride home after she “unexpectedly found herself without transportation from work,” the report states.

“As they were approaching her house, Subject 2 parked his automobile on the side of the street, refused to let his victim exit the vehicle and directed her to give him oral sex while threatening to ‘make her life miserable’ if she refused,” the report states.

The victim “initially rebuffed” her attacker, but ultimately “acquiesced” to his demands only because he was a “more senior lifeguard” who, she firmly believed, could “deliver on his threat,” the report states.

“Subject 2 then suddenly forced himself on top of her, fondled her breasts and genitalia without her consent and attempted to rape her,” the report states.

The attack continued until the victim screamed. The male lifeguard then “let her exit” the vehicle.

Apparently unafraid of being caught, the male lifeguard continued to sexually harass his victim for a full year after the attempted rape, the report states.

At the year-end banquet, he allegedly nominated her to receive an award for “Slut of the Beach.”

The report also concluded the male lifeguard violated the employee code of conduct by “possessing and consuming alcohol” while on duty at North Avenue Beach.

“In detailed and credible testimony, a lifeguard told OIG that, while on beach duty at the 2018 Air & Water Show, he/she saw Subject 2 drink alcoholic beverages to the point where he was obviously intoxicated,” the report states.

“Specifically, the lifeguard recounted Subject 2 stumbled and swayed while patrolling the beach and reeked of alcohol.”

• A veteran seasonal male lifeguard allegedly molested two female co-workers — one at the Portage Park pool in 2016 and the second at the Jefferson Park pool in 2018.

In the 2016 attack in Portage Park, the woman was “attempting to take a pre-shift nap” in the women’s locker room when the male lifeguard came in, laid down next to her and “fondled her breasts and genitalia over her clothing,” the report states.

The fondling allegedly continued even after the woman “attempted to push his hands away from her body,” the report states. The female lifeguard also accused her male abuser of “repeatedly sexually harassing her” by “constantly asking her whether she had ever had sex.”

Two years later, the male lifeguard was at it again — this time at the Jefferson Park pool.

As his second victim was changing in a storage room, the male lifeguard barged in, closed the door behind him, pinned the victim against lockers and “forcefully sexually abused and assaulted her,” ignoring her pleas.

Both before and after the alleged attack, the male lifeguard “propositioned her to enter into a sexual relationship” and made “numerous unwelcomed comments about her buttocks” and his genitalia, the report states.

• The third incident of harassment — with three female victims — allegedly occurred at Welles Park in 2018 and 2019. One victim told investigators that “on several occasions and in the presence of several child patrons,” the male lifeguard “commented on the view that her shorts afforded of her buttocks.”

The male lifeguard was further accused of telling one victim that female lifeguards “should wrestle in their swimsuits while he sprayed them with water because the scene ‘would be so sexy,’” the report states.

When the third victim asked him to stop making lewd comments about her and other women, “He threatened to revoke the time off that he had already approved” for her, just as he had “threatened to retaliate” against another victim, the IG said.

During the investigation, the inspector general learned the male lifeguard had been fired from a lifeguard’s job at Chicago Public Schools and placed on the CPS “do not hire” list for making “inappropriate and uncomfortable advances” toward two female high school students.

CPS told the Park District — but not until February 2020, when he was assigned to a Park District pool on CPS property.