Editor’s note: This story contains brief descriptions of alleged domestic abuse.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s interim police superintendent was accused of domestic violence by his then-wife in 1994, but she ultimately stopped cooperating with an internal probe into the incident, and the department soon concluded that her complaint was “not sustained,” records show.
In May, after winning the mayoral election and before he was sworn into office, Johnson chose longtime Chicago Police Department Officer Fred Waller to be his top cop on a temporary basis. Waller has led the department while the search for a new, permanent superintendent continues.
Waller, whom public officials have said is well-respected among rank and file, has previously said he did not apply to become the next superintendent, but he is leading the department during what has historically been the highest-crime season of the year. He has described himself as “old-school with integrity, professionalism and respect,” and said he saw the interim job as an opportunity to lead and “rebuild trust” and “rebuild morale” within the department.
Within days of Waller being appointed by Johnson, WBEZ sought all the records pertaining to his history with the department. The department has in the months following provided some of the records, but has not yet provided all of them.
Among the records WBEZ received was the case of the domestic violence allegations leveled by his then-wife.
In the summer of 1994, police were called to Waller’s home on the South Side because he and his wife at the time reported an altercation at the home, according to the records.
The woman — a Chicago Transit Authority employee who filed for divorce from Waller soon after the incident — initially told responding officers that he had “struck [her] about the face” and pushed her to the floor of their home with his hands. She also alleged that Waller had been “physically mistreating” her for a year before the couple each called police to respond to their confrontation on July 17, 1994.
Weeks later, Waller denied all of his then-wife’s accusations of domestic violence, saying they each had suffered minor injuries when they “struggled” over a phone, adding that his wife hit him with thrown objects and that “both went to the floor” during the tussle, according to the transcript from Waller’s interview with an investigator for the CPD.
After talking to police a couple times, Waller’s wife backed out of a scheduled interview with the department investigator probing the complaint. In a report from the case file, police wrote that the woman would not provide further details to officers, telling them she “did not want Officer Waller to be terminated from his job.”
Two months later, the internal affairs case was closed with police officials informing Waller’s wife that he was in the clear after a “thorough investigation into all of the allegations” she had lodged against him.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Waller declined to comment when asked about the case by WBEZ.
Police conducted 58 probes into Waller’s conduct
Waller’s ex-wife could not be reached for comment. She filed for divorce in March 1995, alleging Waller was “guilty of extreme and repeated mental cruelty,” Cook County court records show.
She later amended the grounds for divorce to “irreconcilable differences,” and the divorce was finalized in 1997.
Waller, 61, retired from the CPD in 2020 after a 34-year career that saw him rise to third in command. Johnson announced on May 3 that Waller would be interim head of the force until a permanent replacement for former Supt. David Brown is chosen. Earlier this month, a civilian commission sent Johnson the names of three finalists: Angel Novalez, Shon Barnes and Larry Snelling.
Two days after Waller’s appointment as interim top cop, WBEZ requested all records of internal investigations involving accusations against him. The department replied that it would not comply with the station’s request for those public records because it would be “unduly burdensome.”
Officials said there had been 58 cases against Waller that were investigated by the department over the course of his career with CPD.
WBEZ narrowed its request to just the summaries from all the internal investigations into Waller, and CPD officials said in May they would provide the documents, but that it could take a couple months.
The department had provided some — but not all — of those records as of Monday. In nearly every case, records show, the internal investigations concluded without a finding of wrongdoing against Waller.
But around the time he retired in 2020, the Chicago Sun-Times reported one complaint against Waller resulted in a rare 28-day suspension. Records show Waller used the word “rape” during a meeting at police headquarters, as he expressed his feelings about officers being moved out of police districts to other units.
“Grope me, don’t rape me,” Waller said at the November 2019 meeting with other officials. Waller told investigators he apologized to those at the meeting for the comment, which he called “crude and improper.”
And the Sun-Times reported last week the police official who conducted that investigation, Tina Skahill, said she faced “retaliation” before she stepped down as the CPD’s reform chief two months ago. She alleged in an email that Waller frequently complained about the punishment he got in that investigation.
Also last week, Chicago police provided WBEZ with the 67-page file outlining the 1994 investigation of the domestic incident at Waller’s home.
CPD responded to “Battery involving an off-duty police officer”
Although many parts of the report were redacted from the copy provided to the station, the records show Waller allegedly “abused” his wife, leaving her with “bruises” to her face and with a “sore and painful” neck, back and head.
The woman said she called police and let them know that her alleged assailant was a police officer.
According to a transcript, a dispatcher told an officer that the call involved a “domestic disturbance of a Battery involving an off-duty police officer.” The responding officer told the dispatcher he recognized Waller’s name, but quickly added, “I know him, but I got to do what I got to do.”
Waller and his wife ended up at the 5th District station, where they “signed cross complaints against each other,” records show.
Waller’s wife gave a “brief summary” to an investigator two days later over the phone, but she said she was planning on divorcing Waller, and she said her lawyer had advised her not to go into detail about the alleged abuse.
Police records show Waller’s wife skipped a meeting with an internal investigator on July 22, 1994, and rescheduled it. On July 25, 1994, an internal investigator’s report says she again canceled the meeting “for personal reasons” and “had decided not to cooperate with the investigation.”
In his interview with the investigator a few weeks later, Waller said the incident began because she did not believe him when he told her who he had been talking with on the phone.
Waller said she tried to push him over while he was sitting in a chair and threw a gym shoe at him, but he “grabbed” her arm to prevent her from throwing the other shoe. He said she also struck him in the head with the base of the cordless phone, and that the two then “struggled” for several minutes, trying to take the phone from each other.
Waller was asked about multiple “scratches or red marks” in police photos of his wife, and he replied, “While we were struggling for the telephone we both fell to the floor in the living room and we have carpet on the floor and the red mark on her left ankle looks like a rug burn.”
Waller said during the altercation his wife said she would “call the police” and cause him to lose his job, then left the house. He also called the police, after finding another phone.
“Not a finding of guilt or innocence”
In the internal investigation, officials also interviewed Waller’s longtime policing partner, who told them he witnessed Waller’s wife “do a ‘Mike Tyson’ on Fred” — hitting him in the face with an open hand — at a family reunion he accompanied the couple to in Tennessee in 1989.
The Office of Professional Standards, the branch of the department that investigated complaints against officers at the time, sent Waller’s wife a letter on Aug. 29 saying her complaint was deemed “not sustained.”
That finding, the letter said, “means that the evidence was not sufficient to either prove or disprove the allegations made. It is not a finding of guilt or innocence on the part of anyone involved in the incident.
“Your cooperation in this matter has been appreciated.”
Six months later, in her divorce filing, Waller’s wife cited the day police were called to their home as the date when the couple separated.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.