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Chicago lifeguards

For nearly two years, the Chicago park District has been investigating allegations of widespread sexual misconduct among lifeguards a the city’s beaches and pools.

Manuel Martinez/Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

A Chicago Park District supervisor is charged with criminal sexual assault of a teen lifeguard

Even as a sexual abuse scandal expanded at the Chicago Park District’s beaches and pools last summer, a 32-year-old lifeguard at Humboldt Park repeatedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl he supervised at Humboldt Park, prosecutors alleged Thursday.

Chicago Police arrested longtime park district employee Mauricio Ramirez on Wednesday. He became the first person to face criminal charges in the expanding scandal involving widespread complaints of sexual harassment, abuse and assault of female park district lifeguards.

Officers arrested Ramirez at 1:20 p.m. Wednesday in the 6400 block of South Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago, police said. He faces two felony counts for criminal sexual assault and abuse of a minor victim.

After allegations of misconduct were brought to parks officials, Ramirez quit his job with the park district on Oct. 4.

He was the fourth park district employee known to have resigned because of accusations of sexual misconduct this year. WBEZ first reported in April that the park district’s inspector general had been conducting an investigation since early 2020 into allegations against dozens of employees accused of a wide variety of misconduct.

On Thursday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Maryam Ahmad set bond for Ramirez at $500,000. His lawyer had asked her to set bond far lower, at $25,000, after noting that Ramirez did not have a criminal background, worked for years at the park district and now has a job with Amazon.

But Ahmad cited prosecutors’ assertions that Ramirez “was aware of the age difference” between him and his victim, who allegedly told him she was a junior in high school before they had sex on multiple occassions in July, August and September.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office also said it has evidence against Ramirez from a sexual assault kit performed on the victim at a hospital on Sept. 27, a day after the last time he allegedly had sex with the girl, at his home.

“This defendant poses real and present danger to the community,” Ahmad said during Ramirez’s bond court hearing.

The judge also ordered electronic monitoring if Ramirez posts bond.

Ramirez began working for the park district in May 2012, holding the title of natatorium instructor before he resigned on Oct. 4, park district records show. He was the highest ranking among three supervisors who oversaw seven lifeguards at Humboldt Park last summer.

On Sept. 27, a report was filed with Chicago Police against him alleging criminal sexual assault. Prosecutors now say that happened after the girl “outcried to a friend and to her parents.” She went that day to Lurie Children’s Hospital, where a rape kit was collected.

The police department nearly two weeks ago said officers had interviewed a “person of interest” in the case at Humboldt Park, but Ramirez was not arrested at the time.

The allegations revealed Thursday in court indicate that Ramirez continued to have sex with the girl even after parks officials learned of the accusations and took disciplinary action against him.

Earlier this month, parks officials said they were “made aware” of allegations that the man now identified as Ramirez committed sexual misconduct against an underage former seasonal worker on Aug. 26, with the accusation coming from a “third party complainant.”

“The Chicago Park District referred the case to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for investigation the day it was reported,” parks officials said in a statement. “Based on the details provided by the initial, third party complainant, the matter did not rise to the level of OIG involvement.”

At first, park district officials said, the complainant “could not be reached and the alleged victim … refuted being subjected to any misconduct.”

But on Sept. 10, the unnamed complainant provided the park district with a statement backing up the allegations. According to park district officials, that statement contained “screenshots of text messages which include reports of inappropriate communications and choking done in a sexual manner.”

Officials said they suspended the accused employee on Sept. 13 and took steps to fire him.

On the same day, the park district contacted the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. But parks officials said the state told them that “the information provided did not warrant an investigation by DCFS.”

Before the allegations against Ramirez emerged, officials said three other senior lifeguards had been forced to leave the park district payroll after the inspector general reported finding evidence corroborating serious accusations against them earlier this year. But there were complaints against many more employees, according to confidential documents in the case.

And after problems emerged with the internal investigation into the allegations, the park district’s veteran chief executive, Michael Kelly, resigned on Oct. 9.

The park district inspector general, Elaine Little, had quit in September, hours after WBEZ reported that she herself was the subject of an “extensive” investigation for alleged conflicts of interest and wrongdoing when she quit her previous job as director of investigations for the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in 2018.

Soon after Little resigned, park district officials then announced that they had hired former federal prosecutor Valarie Hays to continue the internal investigation.

But by that time, Foxx had opened her own, criminal investigation.

In a letter to Kelly and parks board President Avis LaVelle on Aug. 19, Foxx wrote that prosecutors had begun looking into allegations of “certain criminal conduct, including but not limited to, past and present sexual assault and harassment, obstruction, witness tampering, concealment of criminal conduct and official misconduct of Park District employees and members of the Board.”

And police also have taken a growing interest in allegations of sexual misconduct at the park district’s beaches and pools in recent months, records show.

In addition to Ramirez, officers have been investigating another former lifeguard supervisor who faced accusations from reports by two women. They told police he had sexually attacked them at the pools in Portage Park and Jefferson Park, records show.

The same former lifeguard, who has not been charged, was also the subject of a detailed report from the park district’s inspector general to top officials and board members. The parks investigators concluded in the April report that the man “more likely than not” committed criminal sexual abuse and assault against the two women, according to documents obtained by WBEZ.

The man has told WBEZ the allegations were false. And police closed one of the two cases involving the man that were brought to officers on the Northwest Side. A detective determined that the statute of limitations for that alleged crime had expired. But the other case involving the man remained “open and assigned,” a spokeswoman for the department said this week.

In that case, a woman filed a police report against the man, who is now in his mid-20s, on July 2. She alleged she was sexually attacked in a room near the pool at Jefferson Park in 2018, records show.

“The victim stated that during the sexual incident, she continually told the offender ‘No, stop’ but he dismissed her pleas,” according to the police report in the case. “The offender was in a position of authority over the victim as the offender held a supervisory position.”

The young woman was a seasonal lifeguard and the alleged attacker held the title of “mate” at the park district, records show. The vast majority of on-site supervisors at public beaches and pools – known as mates and captains – are male, a WBEZ analysis of lifeguard payroll has found.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.

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