Criminal investigation into lifeguard abuse kept away from Lightfoot

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that the two top Chicago Park District leaders made an obvious “mistake” by not speaking to her for nearly a month about the state attorney’s investigation. Cook County, Kim Foxx, on allegations of “very serious crimes” against lifeguards. .

Foxx sent a letter Aug. 19 to longtime Park District CEO Michael Kelly and Parks Board Chairman Avis LaVelle advising them that his office was reviewing the allegations of sexual misconduct — and the handling of the deal by the park district.

But after WBEZ obtained a copy of the letter last week, the mayor’s spokesman said Lightfoot “was not aware of the letter.”

And on Wednesday the mayor said: ‘Of course I should have known by the time Mike Kelly and Avis LaVelle were briefed. I made it very clear that it was a mistake on their part. They should have read me.

But at a press conference, Lightfoot wouldn’t answer when asked if she was confident Kelly and LaVelle could continue to lead the Park District through the sex abuse scandal.

A Park District spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday night.

Lightfoot also said she welcomes the investigation by law enforcement authorities.

“It’s no surprise that the state’s attorney is investigating,” the mayor said. “Things that have been disclosed by the press, the young women who came forward made allegations of very serious crimes — very serious crimes. So the state’s attorney should have opened an investigation a long time ago. But I’m grateful that she has done it now, and I think it needs to move forward with deliberate speed.

Lightfoot said the investigation must bring justice to the victims and the perpetrators “must be held accountable”.

“These young women who have come forward and, at their peril, in difficult circumstances, likely re-traumatizing themselves by having to relive what they went through – they deserve justice and I am determined to make that happen. “said the mayor. noted.

In Foxx’s letter to LaVelle and Kelly last month, the county’s chief prosecutor informed parks officials that prosecutors had begun to review allegations of “certain criminal conduct, including, but not limited to, past and present sexual assault and harassment, obstruction, witness tampering, concealment of criminal conduct and official misconduct of Park District employees and Board members.

After WBEZ reported on the letter, foxx tweeted“In the interest of justice and public safety, my office carefully conducts assessments of complaints filed against the Chicago Park District. We assess the validity of complaints and will make billing determinations as appropriate, as appropriate. applicable.”

The state’s attorney became involved about 17 months after two whistleblower complaints — one to Kelly and the other to the mayor’s office — were escalated to the park district inspector general’s office. .

This investigation took place in secret for more than a year. In April, WBEZ reported that investigators had brought charges of sexual misconduct against three senior lifeguards — but were continuing to look into complaints against dozens of employees in the park district’s aquatics division.

The two original whistleblowers told WBEZ last month that they were disappointed with Lightfoot’s handling of the allegations and wanted the mayor to fire Kellywho is paid $230,000 a year and has been the park district’s top official since 2011.

Kelly and LaVelle were nominated by Lightfoot’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, but continued in their roles after Lightfoot was elected in 2019.

Kelly said last month that he had no intention to resign and predicted that the inspector general’s investigation would conclude in September with justice for survivors and systemic reforms that would be the envy of other park districts across the country.

Shortly thereafter, however, Deputy Inspector General Nathan Kipp was fired the same day. Kipp alleged that senior parks officialsincluding Kelly, had attempted to interfere in the investigation.

Inspector General Elaine Little and park officials denied this, saying investigators are acting independently. Corn Not resigned as inspector general last week, hours after WBEZ revealed she quit her previous job as director of investigations at Cook County Juvenile Jail in 2018 amid a internal probe of its own behavior the.

Despite the state’s attorney’s involvement in the case, Park District officials said Wednesday they’ve hired a former federal prosecutor, Valarie Hays, to wrap up the inspector general’s investigation into the allegations. abuse of lifeguards.

And in a statement, officials said they had also brought back a former inspector general, Alison Perona, to fill the position vacated by Little on an interim basis.

Earlier this week, the Park District released an advertisement on its site looking for candidates to succeed Little.

The office is supposed to operate independently of the park administrators whom it has the power to investigate. But in the new job posting, officials said the inspector general would work “under the direction of the Board of Commissioners and the General Superintendent and CEO.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s government and politics team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.

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