Editor’s note: This story contains brief descriptions of alleged domestic abuse.
Update: This story has been updated to include a response by the Johnson administration to the task force.
The chair of the city of Chicago’s task force on gender-based violence is imploring Mayor Brandon Johnson to meet with the group in light of domestic abuse accusations that have surfaced against his hand-picked interim police superintendent, Fred Waller.
Saying it is “not acceptable for anyone in this position to have these kinds of allegations and also not respond to them,” the chair of the 16-member task force, Karla Altmayer, sent a letter to the Johnson administration Friday with a request to meet. Altmayer is also the co-director of the nonprofit Healing to Action, which aims to end gender-based violence.
“We are deeply concerned about all of the allegations of misogyny and domestic violence by Superintendent Fred Waller, particularly the most recent ones,” the letter, obtained by WBEZ, reads. “The truth is that there is a deep culture of misogyny and sexual assault within the Chicago Police Department.”
Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WBEZ on whether he would meet with the task force. After this story was initially published, the mayor’s policy director on gender-based violence responded to the task force saying Johnson would be attending a meeting with them later this month, Altmayer said.
A spokesperson for Waller earlier this week declined to comment about the allegations of domestic violence against the interim superintendent from his then-wife in the 1990s. But Waller told investigators at the time that the allegations of domestic abuse were false. Waller’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding a 2006 allegation of domestic abuse from a different woman.
WBEZ revealed Monday that in 1994, Waller’s then-wife told police he had “struck [her] about the face” and pushed her to the floor of their home, and that he had been “physically mistreating” her for a year. The woman ultimately stopped cooperating with an internal probe, and the department soon concluded the complaint was “not sustained” — meaning, by police definition, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove or refute the allegation.
Johnson defended Waller’s character at an unrelated news conference Wednesday, saying “the confidence that [Waller] has from the people of Chicago, and as well as the individuals that serve this city — it’s a remarkable testament to his value system” and said the 1994 accusations had been “settled and solved.”
Hours later, South Side Weekly unveiled another allegation against Waller, by a different woman, in 2006. The outlet reported that, according to records it obtained, a 39-year-old woman accused Waller of domestic violence and told police he had choked and pushed her. The woman cooperated, but the case was also determined to be “not sustained.”
Johnson has not taken questions from the press since the second allegation was revealed.
In its letter, the task force criticized Johnson’s response to the 1994 allegations.
“By supporting and defending interim Superintendent Fred Waller in these credible allegations of domestic violence, the city is communicating to survivors that if people in power aren’t accountable, no one will be,” it reads.
Altmayer said the fact the allegations were “not sustained” by the department’s Office of Professional Standards will not change the impact the accusations might have on survivors in Chicago who rely on police to receive and investigate complaints of abuse.
“Mayor Brandon Johnson has to ask himself, does he want this person to really represent him to survivors? And I think ultimately, that’s a question that he really needs to understand: Does he want that to be the face that survivors think about when they’re thinking about asking for help?” Altmayer said.
“We’re often looking to a final court decision to see if the court said this way or this adjudicatory body made a decision. And ultimately we also know that that can’t always be looked at to actually know the truth of whether gender-based violence happens or not.”
Altmayer said there’s an ongoing erosion of trust between survivors and the police, citing recent allegations of sexual abuse of a migrant by police of a West Side station in Chicago. (The independent investigatory body tasked with probing police misconduct recently announced they could not find any victims associated with the allegations.)
At the time of the migrant sexual abuse allegations, Altmayer said the task force sent a letter offering to advise him on how to center and support victims amid these types of allegations.
Altmayer said the group is eager to meet with Johnson to discuss how gender-based violence policy should play a role in the process of selecting the city’s permanent police superintendent.
Johnson has until mid-August to choose from three finalists for the permanent superintendent position sent to him by the newly-created Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, or reject all three and demand another nationwide search. Waller has said he has not applied for the permanent position and doesn’t want it.
The task force was initiated under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. It sees itself as an independent body meant to hold the city accountable for making gender-based violence prevention and survivor support a legislative and policy priority.
One of the last things Lightfoot did before leaving office was codify the task force into city ordinance so that it could not be easily dismantled. It is made up of leaders from the survivor support community — including groups such as Apna Ghar, The Network, the Center on Halsted and others. Members are unpaid but are aided by two employees from the mayor’s office, Altmayer said.
Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government and politics at WBEZ.