Chicago Park District head defends actions in lifeguard sexual harassment investigation

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The top leader of the Chicago Park District - Michael P. Kelly - defended himself Friday after recent headlines on how he handled a sexual harassment complaint made by a female lifeguard at Oak Street Beach.

"Do I think I took the right course of action? Yes, I do. Would I have done it again? In hindsight, maybe I would have went to the inspector general that day," said Kelly, the park district's general superintendent and CEO.

The sexual harassment allegations surfaced in February 2020. Kelly said the female lifeguard was a minor at the time, and Kelly said her father called him with concerns. Kelly said the girl followed-up with an 11-page note about how male lifeguards harrassed her verbally and physically. She sent it to Kelly.

Kelly responded to her email. "We take this very seriously. I'm going to report this to the inspector general. We're going to root this out," Kelly said during a one-on-one interview ABC 7's Stacey Baca.

Kelly said he launched an investigation by notifying his managers, but admits he did not notify the park district's inspector general at that time.

"I stand by my path that I went to management, but I'm not going to make an argument that I couldn't have gone to the inspector general that day with it. I could have, I could have," he said. "And maybe I should have."

About six weeks after the girl's 11-page note, City Hall got involved, coming forward with another complaint. On March 19, 2020, Kelly said the mayor's office sent him a second complaint from a second female.

"It was a criminal sexual assault," he said. "I can't remember if she said she was sexually assaulted or raped. Even more heinous than the first one."

At that point, March 2020, Kelly said he immediately turned to the then-inspector general.

"Now we have two complaints. It doesn't matter where the investigation on my end is...this is now officially going to the inspector general. We're done," he said.

Since then, Kelly said five lifeguards have resigned, and the inspector general concluded three veteran lifeguards engaged in sexual misconduct.

Kelly said lifeguard have received at least four training sessions, including sexual harassment training. He said he's also aware of one criminal investigation.

"I'm not going to rest until we get all these bad actors out. I will sit in the first pew of the Cook County courthouse if there is a prosecution to happen," he said.

The inspector general isn't finished investigating. Kelly said he expects another inspector general report in about three to four weeks.
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