A former lifeguard supervisor at public pools on the Northwest Side on Thursday became the second man charged with sex crimes in the wide-ranging scandal in the Chicago Park District’s Aquatics Department.
The office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx charged Hector Coz, 25, with felony criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse against a girl who was 17 years old when he was supervising her and allegedly attacked her in a locker room at Jefferson Park pool in 2018.
Coz worked for the park district for eight years but left after being accused of serious sexual misconduct at two pools in 2020, documents show.
Confidential records obtained by WBEZ show park district investigators told the agency’s board last year that they had found evidence Coz “repeatedly committed various forms of sexual misconduct against two female lifeguards with whom he had worked.”
Coz was suspended and placed on the park district’s “do not rehire” list. But Chicago police only began to investigate him after WBEZ first reported on the internal park district probe — and his accuser spoke to law enforcement last July, public records show.
At his home on the Northwest Side a year ago, Coz told WBEZ the accusations against him were false and he declined to discuss the matter further.
Police say they arrested Coz in Naperville, where he lives with his fiancee in the 1200 block of Whispering Hills Court, on Wednesday. He appeared for the first time in court on Thursday.
Bond was set at $275,000, and the judge admonished Coz to have no contact with his accuser in the case or another lifeguard who also told authorities that he had sexually attacked her at Portage Park Pool in 2016.
Foxx opened up her own investigation into the scandal in August, after WBEZ revealed that the inspector general’s office for the park district had been conducting a probe into dozens of sexual-misconduct complaints since March 2020.
Until Coz’s arrest, the only other person charged in the scandal was Mauricio Ramirez, a lifeguard supervisor at Humboldt Park. Ramirez is scheduled to appear again in court on June 2, officials said.
In January, the park district’s inspector general reported that her office had looked into 49 allegations at the agency’s beaches and pools and unearthed “sustained findings” in 29 of those cases.
The scandal at the park district also led to the resignations last year of longtime park district chief executive Michael Kelly and the politically connected president of the parks board, Avis LaVelle.
Accuser ‘did not think anything would be done’
Coz began working as a seasonal lifeguard for the park district in 2013, records show. In addition to working at the two pools on the Northwest Side, he also was a lifeguard at Foster Beach, according to the documents.
But he did not apply again to work for the park district during last year’s beach and pool season, after the inspector general looked into the complaints against him from two female lifeguards at Portage Park and Jefferson Park. They included the lifeguard at the center of the new charges against him.
The parks investigators told the agency’s board and top administrators in April 2021 that their probe concluded Coz “more likely than not” committed criminal sexual abuse and assault against the two females, according to the documents obtained by WBEZ.
Both had “independently related that, in 2020, they had confided in one another” about how they had been victimized by Coz, the records show.
One of the accusers told the park district investigators she did not file a police report or tell parks officials about an alleged assault “because she did not think that anything would be done.” The other accuser similarly said she had not considered going to the police because “she believed that she could not do anything about what he had done.”
The two accusers spoke with police last year, and the case was turned over to law enforcement by the park district’s inspector general.
“The victim stated that during the sexual incident, she continually told the offender ‘No, stop’ but he dismissed her pleas,” according to a police report. “The offender was in a position of authority over the victim as the offender held a supervisory position.”
The girl was a seasonal lifeguard at Jefferson Park, and Coz held the title of “mate,” records show. The on-site lifeguard supervisors at public beaches and pools are known as mates and captains, and most of them have been male, a WBEZ analysis of lifeguard payroll data found.
On Thursday, prosecutors alleged that Coz first sexually harassed his accuser at Jefferson Park, telling her he could “pleasure her better than her boyfriend.”
Then, he allegedly locked a door in the changing room at the pool and pinned her against lockers before grabbing her face and fondling her breasts, vagina and buttocks. Prosecutors say Coz also penetrated the girl with his fingers twice, even though she told him to stop multiple times.
The other accuser told the girl in August 2020 that she also was attacked by Coz, at Portage Park in 2016, when she was a lifeguard.
Prosecutors on Thursday described that woman as a witness in their newly filed case, but authorities say the statute of limitations has expired for them to bring any charges over what happened to her.
In their probe, park district investigators said they tried to interview Coz but his union representative told them he did not intend to apply again to be a lifeguard and “would not participate in any interview with them.”
Park district’s lifeguard recruiting campaign
After the Aquatics Department scandal broke last year, female lifeguards told WBEZ that misogyny and sexual misconduct at the city’s beaches and pools have been rampant for decades.
In response to the allegations, park district officials and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have promised a long list of reforms to ensure the safety of lifeguards.
The park district’s interim leader, Rosa Escareno, has said she is confident that changes instituted recently would prevent a repeat of the misconduct that has plagued the Aquatics Department.
But with scores of beaches and pools scheduled to open later this month, the park district faces a shortage of lifeguards, and officials launched a marketing campaign titled “I am a Chicago lifeguard” last month. The campaign includes ads on billboards next to expressways and posters at parks.
Park district records show the campaign has cost more than $20,000. The bulk of those expenses – nearly $13,000 – were racked up to place ads with the Chicago Transit Authority.
“The ‘I am a Chicago Lifeguard’ campaign, including design, printing and outreach, was executed using existing Chicago Park District personnel and resources, which are not charged back to budget accounts by individual pieces of work product or projects,” park district officials said in a statement.
They also said, “The District utilized the City of Chicago’s digital billboards and information panels for additional outreach. Use of these assets is provided in-kind to city agencies.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.