A Chicago police officer was accused of sexual assault. The top cop pushed to keep him on the force.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability found the officer engaged in a series of nonconsensual sex acts in 2020 against the woman, who reported he attacked her when she fell asleep at her home after they attended a banquet.

SHARE A Chicago police officer was accused of sexual assault. The top cop pushed to keep him on the force.

Chicago’s former interim police Supt. Fred Waller pushed to keep an officer on the police force after an independent oversight agency found he sexually assaulted a woman following a night of partying.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability found the officer engaged in a series of nonconsensual sexual acts against the woman, who quickly reported that he attacked her when she fell asleep at her home in Oak Lawn after they attended a banquet in March 2020.

“This conduct seriously undermines public faith, credibility, and trust in the Department. He took advantage of [the woman’s] vulnerable state and violated her,” COPA’s top officials wrote in a May 25, 2023, report, released last month, that called for the officer’s dismissal.

Waller took a much different stance in an Aug. 28 response letter, questioning the alleged victim’s account while making a case to keep the officer, who had just over a year on the job at the time of the alleged attack.

Although Waller agreed with nearly all of COPA’s findings that the officer had committed sex acts without the woman’s consent, he repeatedly undercut his own conclusions.

“The undisputed facts and statements in this case suggest that [the officer] may have displayed remarkably poor judgment on 15 March 2020 by engaging in a variety of sex acts with [the woman] but they do not necessarily support a finding that he did so without consent,” wrote Waller, now a top adviser to Supt. Larry Snelling.

Waller called for a 270-day suspension without pay. Police spokespeople didn’t respond to a list of questions seeking to clarify Waller’s position.

In an interview, COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten said Waller’s stance “was inconsistent” and “didn’t make a lot of intellectual or legal sense.”

“The challenges that are sort of laid bare here in interim Supt. Fred Waller’s decision on this really speak to why there has been, for years, a huge push to make sure that an outside entity, such as COPA, is handling these investigations,” Kersten added.

Waller has been investigated twice for domestic violence but never faced discipline, according to WBEZ and South Side Weekly. He previously retired after being suspended in 2020 for using the word “rape” to express his feelings about cops being moved from police districts to other units.

“Grope me, don’t rape me,” he said in a high-level meeting.

Just over a week after Waller’s letter was sent, the officer resigned. Had he remained, Kersten said COPA planned to bring the dispute with Waller to the Chicago Police Board to resolve.

The Sun-Times isn’t naming the officer because he hasn’t been criminally charged. The status of a criminal investigation remained unclear.

An Oak Lawn police spokesperson said the state’s attorney’s office had informed an investigator “charges would not be approved.”

But a spokesperson for the state’s attorney said prosecutors haven’t made a decision on whether to bring criminal charges and referred the case back to Oak Lawn police for “further investigation.”

‘I’m scared and confused’

Hours after the alleged attack, on the morning of March 15, 2020, the alleged victim sent an alarming text message to her therapist, according to the COPA report.

“I was sexually assaulted last night,” she wrote, “I’m scared and confused.”

The doctor told her to head to an emergency room without showering and to bring the clothes she wore during and after the assault, according to COPA. Just over an hour later, the woman arrived at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where evidence was collected and a sexual assault exam was performed.

The following day, the woman told Oak Lawn police she drank as many as five cocktails at the banquet she attended with the officer and another person, COPA said. They later returned to the woman’s home, where she recalled falling asleep on the couch and then waking up in her bedroom with the officer assaulting her.

She quickly sought help and made a series of concerning internet searches, including, “How to tell a family member you were raped,” COPA said.

The officer told COPA she had previously made sexual advances on him. He denied any sexual misconduct and claimed the woman had willingly engaged in a threesome with him and another person, with the woman instigating the contact.

The other person, with whom the officer was in a relationship, backed up his account, COPA said.

COPA said the woman had “no apparent motive … to fabricate these allegations” and found her claims credible — unlike the officer’s.

“His account does not ring true in light of [the woman’s] subsequent actions of submitting to a sexual assault exam, her internet searches, demeanor and reporting to police,” COPA concluded.

The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation released a statement Friday saying they were “distressed by the news of Chicago Police leadership protecting an officer found responsible for sexual assault.”

“For a CPD leader to undermine credible survivor testimony and describe sexual assault as ‘remarkably poor judgment’ by an officer is appalling,” the statement read.

Advocates note in 1991, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that credible victim testimony was enough to support a conviction in sex offense cases.

Conflicting findings

COPA sustained six allegations against the officer involving separate nonconsensual sexual acts, including the officer forcibly had sex with the woman.

That was the only sustained allegation Waller didn’t agree with. He said he came to that conclusion because the woman never alleged the officer used “force” or the “threat of force.”

He raised questions about consent and noted that COPA’s findings were premised entirely on the alleged victim’s statements, adding prosecutors and police in Oak Lawn hadn’t found evidence supporting the officer “engaged in various sex acts with [the woman] without her consent.”

Waller never clearly explained why he concurred with most of COPA’s findings or why he recommended a nine-month suspension when he had deep reservations about the allegations at the heart of the investigation.

Instead, he referred to the recent case of another cop who was handed that same punishment in July, when the police board found he had an improper sexual encounter with a woman hours after responding to a burglary at her home.

In that case, COPA ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the woman was sexually assaulted, and it took years for her to report the misconduct.

Waller still drew parallels, saying the officer in the new case had similarly discredited the department and undermined the public’s trust in its officers.

“However, due to the lack of sufficient evidence to validate, prove, or verify the issue of consent in this case, the penalty of separation recommended by COPA is inappropriate,” he said.

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