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Chicago’s inspector general still digging up wrongdoing while working from home

Joe Ferguson’s latest quarterly report shows the usual sordid sampling of misconduct, including alleged shakedowns, sexual harassment and police abuse.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson
Inspector General Joe Ferguson
Sun-Times file

A parking enforcement aide who sexually harassed a special ed teacher encountered while ticketing near a school, and a construction specialist who did the same to someone who applied for home repair assistance.

A sanitation laborer who solicited cash bribes to empty garbage bins and construction debris.

A police officer who made unauthorized recordings of members of the public, sexually suggestive and racially insensitive remarks and used a coin flip to determine whether to arrest someone.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson is working from home during the stay-at-home order triggered by the coronavirus. But he’s not slowing down in his efforts to clean up city government, according to a quarterly report dated April 15 and posted on his website without the usual fanfare.

As always, the report does not include the names of the accused. But it includes the usual sordid sampling of misconduct:

• A laborer for the city’s Department of Transportation was accused of leaving work early without authorization to attend a Cubs game. While driving home before the game, the laborer was involved in what Ferguson called a “road-rage traffic altercation.” The laborer allegedly “brandished a firearm and fired one shot while using lewd language” toward the other driver. The laborer then swiped out of work at an unauthorized location and drove home, where he was met by police. After the arrest, a CDOT foreman and an assistant general superintendent “knowingly sought to subvert” the inspector general’s investigation by failing to report the laborer; scheduling a disciplinary hearing in which they alleged the laborer “had only left work early;” and by signing off on a “false edit sheet for the laborer’s time off the clock,” the report states. Ferguson recommended all three employees be fired. After consulting with the Law Department, the laborer was suspended for seven days. Both supervisors were suspended for three days.

• A police officer was accused of using a personal device to make audio and video recordings of members of the public in their homes and in a lockup without their consent. The recordings show the officer verbally harassing individuals, making sexually suggestive and racially insensitive remarks to a crime victim and delaying response to a call. On two occasions, the officer “unnecessarily displayed their service weapon, once when the officer danced with it in the squad vehicle and once when the officer pulled out a taser and service weapon in the dark while play acting,” the report states. The officer’s partner was accused of participating and was seen on the recordings “mocking a female African American complainant, delaying response to a call, using the N-word and flipping a coin to determine whether to arrest someone.” The partner was also shown displaying a service weapon while playing with it in an empty dark lot. Both officers resigned to avoid being discharged. Their sergeant is appealing a 10-day suspension for being aware of the video and failing to report it.

• A Streets and Sanitation laborer was accused of demanding cash from a homeowner for garbage collection services that are supposed to be covered by Chicago’s $9.50-a-month garbage collection fee. The same laborer also “solicited and received money from an undercover investigator in exchange for removing construction debris and other garbage from an alley and residential property which was captured on video surveillance,” the report states. The laborer, who has since resigned, admitted to having solicited the homeowner and the investigator, and he acknowledged having shaken down other homeowners in the past.

• A parking enforcement aide was accused of sexually harassing a special ed teacher for the Chicago Public Schools whom the PEA encountered while ticketing near a school. The same PEA was further accused of setting up a GoFundMe page to “solicit donations in return for not ticketing in donors’ areas,” the report states. Ferguson recommended the employee be fired. The Law Department reduced the punishment to a 60-day suspension.

• A supervising rehabilitation construction specialist was accused of sexually harassing an applicant for home repair assistance through “serial, persistent and harassing text messages and phone calls over an extended period of time.” The specialist, who has since been fired, was further accused of harassing two employees” of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

• A police communications operator with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications was accused of using four days of paid sick leave to go on a seven-day Caribbean cruise in 2014. Two other police communications operators were accused of abusing the Family and Medical Leave Act.

• A legal administrator for a debt collection law firm hired by the city was accused of soliciting a $400 cash bribe from a city scofflaw in exchange for wiping debt off the books and releasing the scofflaw’s impounded vehicle. The administrator has been fired.

• An operating engineer with the Department of Aviation was accused of using a racial slur to reference African American people. The engineer retired to avoid being interviewed.