Chicago FD under fire for handling of a sexual assault case

The firefighter was allowed to return to work after being arrested and charged with a felony sex crime, as well as misdemeanor domestic battery charges


John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday blasted the Chicago Fire Department for its handling of a firefighter who was recently charged with sexual assault and allowed to return to work.

A Fire Department spokesman told the Tribune on Tuesday that the fact the alleged sexual assault committed by the firefighter was domestic in nature “does make a difference” in fire officials deciding he could return to his normal duties and interact with the public.

Photo/Chicago Fire Department Engine 35

In a statement Wednesday, the Lightfoot administration said that portrayal “was deeply offensive to the Mayor personally and does not reflect our values as a city.”

“The characterization of the alleged crime as merely a ‘domestic’ as an explanation for why the CFD was not taking decisive action shows a profound lack of judgment and accountability,” the statement reads in part. “The Mayor has made it clear to the CFD Commissioner that the CFD response was highly problematic and cannot stand.”

The firefighter was allowed to return to work after he was charged with sexually assaulting and hitting a woman with whom he’s going through a divorce, the Tribune confirmed and first published in online reports Tuesday.

The mayor’s fire commissioner on Wednesday said the firefighter subsequently was removed from field duties and also was critical of her department’s response.

“The allegations made against this employee are extremely serious, deeply disturbing, and do not reflect the values of the Chicago Fire Department or the City of Chicago,” Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said in a statement. “The employee in question has been removed from field responsibilities pending the outcome of both investigations and further action will be swiftly taken following the findings of (CFD internal affairs) and the CPD.”

The statement did not address whether Nance-Holt had any knowledge of the case or the department’s handling of it.

The firefighter was arrested July 15, and charged with felony criminal sexual assault and misdemeanor domestic battery, according to court records.

The Tribune is not naming the firefighter to avoid identifying the alleged victim. Court records show the accused firefighter in the case has been involved in divorce proceedings with the alleged victim since June 2020.

The firefighter and the woman started having consensual sex before she eventually wanted to stop, according to the allegations in a police report. But the firefighter continued to force himself on her against her will and hitting her, the police report states.

Cook County Judge Charles Beach II set the firefighter’s bail at $30,000, records show. He eventually posted the necessary $3,000 — or 10% of his bond — before his release from Cook County Jail.

The firefighter was then placed on GPS monitoring and ordered to not have any contact with his accuser while his case is pending, court records show.

Larry Langford, the Chicago Fire Department spokesman, confirmed late Tuesday that the firefighter had been returned to his normal work duties.

Langford said the department evaluates each case when a firefighter is charged with a crime to determine whether it would impact their ability to interact with the public. For this particular case, Langford said, the fact that the allegations were domestic in nature “does make a difference,” and based on those facts, the department allowed the firefighter to return to work.

Nance-Holt, the fire commissioner, had strong words for that description of the alleged crime as part of the department’s response Wednesday.

“The Chicago Fire Department takes gender-based violence, including sexual assault, and violence of any kind extremely seriously. I am aware of previous statements attributed to a CFD spokesperson regarding this matter,” the commissioner’s statement read.

“I understand that those comments were offensive and suggested that the CFD did not take the allegations against one of our members seriously,” the statement continued. “Those comments do not reflect the values of the Department or the seriousness with which we must take all allegations of gender-based violence.”

According to city records, the firefighter is listed as a “firefighter-EMT (recruit)” with an annual salary of $84,192.

Lightfoot on Wednesday said she will be announcing a strategic plan on gender-based violence later this year that will include a “more robust sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace training plan” for city employees and “a review of city policies in response to sexual misconduct and violence in the workplace.”

“The Mayor’s office looks forward to CFD’s continued cooperation as this investigation continues and we pray that the victim and her family are able to find strength and healing during this incredibly difficult time,” the mayor’s office statement reads in part.

While there are no records showing the victim in the case was a CFD employee, the allegations come at a time when the department has faced criticism for its handling of sexual harassment accusations made by female employees.

In April, the city’s inspector general’s office released a report saying that CFD needs to put in place stronger policies to deal with sexual harassment. And in June, the city settled for $1.83 million with five female CFD paramedics who sued the city alleging they were groped, stalked and forced to endure repeated sexually explicit remarks from bosses, and that the city failed to take steps to stop a pervasive culture of sexual harassment throughout the Fire Department’s firehouses and other facilities.

(c) 2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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