When Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose A. Santiago retired in August, he was facing disciplinary action from Mayor Rahm Emanuel for failing to file a complaint against his driver, who used the N-word while joking with the fire department’s press secretary, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
This racial incident remained under wraps while City Hall insiders debated the commissioner’s future as he approached the mandatory retirement age of 63.
There was even speculation from the mayor’s office that Emanuel would ask the city council to pass an ordinance to let Santiago stay on as a civilian to run the fire department, which is predominantly white and has a history of racially charged incidents, largely involving white firefighters.
Ultimately, City Hall parted ways with Santiago after the mayor’s office received an 11-page report on Aug. 7 from the city’s Department of Human Resources, that recommended Santiago be punished for violating the city’s equal employment opportunity policy.
According to the city investigators, Santiago failed to file a complaint about the racial slur that his driver, Cmdr. Richard Rosado, uttered to the fire department’s news affairs director, Larry Langford, in the presence of the department’s chief administrative officer, Annastasia Walker, in a parking lot at fire headquarters at 35th Street and Michigan Avenue on Oct. 11, 2016.
Rosado and Santiago are Hispanic. Langford and Walker are African-American.
Also, Santiago “knowingly provided false information” about the incident when he was questioned by Steven Malec, who is assistant fire commissioner and the fire department’s internal affairs director, according to the human resources report.
“Instead, Santiago’s misrepresentation unnecessarily delayed this investigation by eight months,’’ the report says. “Accordingly, DHR finds there is sufficient evidence to find that Santiago knowingly provided false information to [Malec] . . . “ by denying that he received a formal complaint about Rosado using the “N-word.”
Santiago retired Aug. 30 and now gets a pension of $152,046 a year.
He denies many of the allegations in the report. But in an interview he says he now sees that he should have stepped aside from the case and left it to one of his deputies to investigate and weigh whether disciplinary action was warranted.
“You’ve got an individual [Walker] here who doesn’t want to file a report, and I’m supposed to file a report?” Santiago says. “Annastasia didn’t want to file a complaint at that time, and I let it go.
“We’ve got two guys [Rosado and Langford] joking around,” he says. “They shouldn’t have done it. She’s insinuating I hid it . . . This is all about me now.”
Walker and Langford had lunch together on Oct. 11, 2016, then drove back to work together.
Langford, son of the late Ald. Anna Langford (16th), pulled in to the parking lot, where he saw Rosado.
“Say, are you the valet man?” Langford, in an interview with human resources, recalled joking to the commissioner’s driver.
Langford told investigators Rosado responded jokingly, saying “N—–, pleeze,” according to the report.
Rosado told investigators, “I intended the response in a joking manner,’’ adding that Langford “started laughing profusely.”
Walker, who was in the front passenger seat, told human resources she immediately went to Santiago’s office and complained.
“I was visibly angry, on the verge of tears,” she told investigators.
She said Santiago told her: “I keep telling these guy to stop doing that. I keep telling them. I keep telling them.”
Santiago’s secretary, Shirley Evans, backed up what Walker said, saying she was in the commissioner’s office at the time.
In interviews with human resources officials and with the Sun-Times, Santiago disputed that Walker came to his office. He says he went to talk with her after hearing something had happened in the parking lot. He also denies telling her that he previously had warned Rosado and Langford about their racial banter.
Rosado told investigators that when he went to apologize to Walker, she screamed at him, “Get the f— out of my office, you f—— piece of s—.”
A few weeks later, on Dec. 2, 2016, City Hall’s inspector general’s office got an anonymous complaint that Rosado had used racial slurs. It was referred to Malec, who told the human resources investigators, “The fire commissioner denies that he received any complaint about Rosado using a racial slur.”
Several months later, on Aug. 18, 2017, the inspector general got a second anonymous complaint, with more information. It said Walker and Langford had witnessed Rosado’s slur. That led to the human resources investigation.
City Hall’s EEO policy “requires all supervisors to report all instances of conduct that may violate the policy . . . Any employee who knowingly provides false information in the course of an investigation may be subject to discipline.”
Even though Santiago denies that Walker wanted to file a complaint about Rosado, the human resources report says Santiago was required to report the incident anyway: “The record is clear that Santiago knew Rosado engaged in inappropriate conduct.”
Rosado, a 32-year veteran of the fire department, ended up getting a three-day suspension for using the racial slur. He served the suspension, then retired Oct. 9 with a pension of $74,469 a year.
Rosado couldn’t be reached, and Walker, Evans and Malec all declined to discuss the incident.
Langford told human resources he wasn’t offended by Rosado’s racial slur, characterizing it as a “jovial response typically used between people of color . . . From my perspective, this incident didn’t need to be reported.
“He made a comment that I thought was pretty funny,” says Langford, who says he and Rosado have been friends for two decades.
Emanuel’s spokesman Adam Collins says, “This is an extremely serious allegation and an action this administration will not tolerate.”
According to Collins, the mayor’s office learned of the incident “once the investigation was underway.”
He says Emanuel never punished Santiago over the incident because human resources recommended that he wait for the findings on an investigation by the inspector general, but that investigation became moot once Santiago retired.