chicago park district oak street beach scandal
New details about how the city has (mis)handled the sexual abuse allegations at Oak Street Beach show some things never change. Credit: Damien Dan / Unsplash

For proof that the people who run this city are determined to never change their ways, I bring you the latest unsavory details regarding the harassment of female lifeguards at Oak Street Beach.

They’re contained in the recently released Hays Report, so named for Valarie Hays, the corporate lawyer who wrote it.

The Park District hired Hays after having pretty much ignored the evidence that had been staring them in the face for over a year.

Just as powerful players ignored evidence in the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the raid on Anjanette Young’s house, and the killing of David Koschman by Mayor Daley’s nephew. Like I said, things never change.

Now back to the unsavory details in Hays’s report . . .

On August 30, 2019, Mike Kelly, then superintendent of the Park District, received an e-mail from a “friend with whom he did business” and whose daughter was a lifeguard at Oak Street Beach. In the e-mail, Kelly’s friend recommended that Kelly “send someone” to “remove” a “fight song” painted on the wall “before press or somebody runs with it.”

Here are the lyrics to the fight song, which “lifeguards had to memorize and chant every morning as they did pushups”:

“Cock sucker, motherfucker, eat a bag of shit, cunt bag, douchebag, bite your mother’s tit. We’re the best lifeguards, all the others suck. Oak Street, Oak Street, rah, rah fuck. Rat shit, bat shit, dirty smell twat. 48 cunt hairs tied in a knot. Eat shit, suck cock. Gobble, nibble, chant. We’re the best, we’re the best lifeguards, so fuck you!”

The e-mail offered more details of harassment. “My daughter was regularly called a bitch by some of the guards. . . And at least two times, thrown against a locker by an older male guard . . . She was regularly mocked for her faith.”

According to Hays, Kelly sent a copy of that complaint to an underling and wrote, “take a look and let’s discuss.” But there was no evidence of a follow-up investigation, according to Hays.

Months passed. On February 7, 2020, the lifeguard herself e-mailed Kelly, detailing her accusations in an 11-page report.

“I worked at Oak Street Beach this past summer in 2019,” she wrote. “There was extreme abuse from the other lifeguards, and I do not want to see anybody else go through what I went through . . . The names bitch, slut, whore, pussy, and cunt became my regular name that multiple . . . lifeguards called me.”

She also alleged that “one guard hit her on the back of the neck ‘extremely hard.’ She reported that when she pushed him away, he charged at her and ‘ended up slamming/throwing me into [a] metal wall.’”

Kelly largely ignored the lifeguard’s e-mail—as he did the one from her father—according to Hays. The matter might never have been fully investigated if not for a second complaint written by another female lifeguard.

On March 6, 2020, that second lifeguard sent her allegations to Mayor Lightfoot’s office. She alleged that she was “sexually assaulted by a male lifeguard five years earlier when she was 17 years old and he was approximately 20 years old.”

When she tried to “speak up about her experiences,” she says she was called a “kissy whore” and a “slut.”

She alleged that, “there is a huge incidence of sexual violence with the Park District—from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape.”

She went on to describe a “code of silence” in which “those in positions of authority will have each other’s back no matter what happens.”

On March 19, someone in the mayor’s office—not identified by Hays—sent the second complaint to Kelly. On that day, Kelly finally got around to sending both complaints to the Park District’s inspector general for an investigation.

Personally, I’m disappointed the mayor’s office forwarded the e-mail to Kelly, as opposed to sending it to state’s attorney Kim Foxx. I mean, the accusation is that Park District authorities are covering up accusations of assault. So why would you send that complaint to, you know, a Park District authority?

That’s where things stood for about a year. As apparently no one in the mayor’s office followed up with the Park District.

Then on April 27, 2021, WBEZ reporter Dan Mihalopoulos broke news of the allegations. That’s about 18 months after Kelly’s friend warned Kelly about the story breaking in the press.

Mihalopoulos has been following up ever since, with revelation after revelation. And eventually, it was too hot to be ignored.

On a tangent: I believe Chicago officials will try to ignore a scandal if only one news outlet is reporting it. But if other outlets chime in? Then the attitude becomes—damn, looks like we actually gotta do something about this!

Eventually, Kelly resigned, and several Park District bureaucrats were fired. And last week Avis LaVelle, president of the Park District board, stepped down.

There’s one detail about LaVelle that’s just too pricelessly Chicago to ignore.

On August 19, 2021, Mihalopoulos reported that Kim Foxx was being requested to look into the lifeguards’ allegations. Later that day LaVelle texted Foxx the following request . . .

“GM Kim, it’s Avis. Can u call me when u get a minute.”

Mihalopoulos—who else?—uncovered that text in an open-records request to Foxx’s office.

LaVelle told Mihalopoulos that she just wanted to “assure” Foxx “of my full cooperation.” The good news is that Foxx didn’t call LaVelle, as requested.

Hey, friends of Kim Foxx . . .

I know you’re proud of the clout you have. But I suggest you refrain from contacting the state’s attorney if you hear that you might be under investigation.

You’re not doing Foxx any favors. Just ask Tina Tchen of the Jussie Smollett affair.

Anyway, thank you Mr. Mihalopoulos. Without you, it’s pretty obvious the allegations of assault would have been buried in the sand of Oak Street Beach.