In a city scarred by a deep and troubling history with guns, a supervisor in the scandal-plagued water department used his city email account to negotiate firearms deals and make light of deadly Fourth of July violence in black neighborhoods by offering “Chicago Safari” tours, a new watchdog report revealed Monday.
The latest development in the ongoing investigation, which the Tribune first disclosed in May, emerged as Inspector General Joseph Ferguson detailed how ousted district water superintendent Paul Hansen emailed with individuals over personal purchases or sales of at least four firearms and five cars.
Those emails about firearms started the investigation over his use of a government account for personal business, which is against city rules. And it quickly spread to other emails sent by Hansen, who is white and the son of a former alderman, to other water department bosses, according to City Hall sources.
In his quarterly report, Ferguson revealed a fresh string of anti-black emails sent to multiple high-ranking water department workers that touted a fake “Chicago Safari” package. It cited the number of shootings during a July Fourth weekend and guaranteed tourists would observe “at least one kill and five crime scenes” and also see “lots of animals in their natural habitat.”
Hansen’s racially charged emails included messages to fellow workers purported to be in “Ebonics,” sometimes called American black English, and a picture describing a swimming pool for a small African-American child who sits in a bucket filled with water while holding a slice of watermelon, the report found.
Ferguson also cited Hansen’s “Watermelon Protection” email that featured a picture depicting a Ku Klux Klan scarecrow guarding a field of watermelons, part of a cache of racist, sexist and homophobic emails the Tribune first disclosed online Friday.
A second figure noted in the report for anti-Muslim and anti-black emails was Thomas J. Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers who resigned recently after being placed on administrative leave while under investigation. Neither Hansen nor Durkin were named, but the Tribune was able to identify them through City Hall sources, the description of their activities and job status listed.
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Hansen and Durkin could not be reached immediately for comment.
The inspector general’s quarterly report comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel finds himself fighting the proliferation of firearms in the city and facing the fallout from another deadly July Fourth weekend in Chicago.
As Emanuel seeks to recapture support from African-American voters still upset over his handling of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the mayor and his aides have stressed that he installed a new commissioner and sought to remake the culture in the long-troubled department.
Still, Ferguson’s report raised questions about whether he found all the troubling emails. Ferguson said the mayor’s Law Department imposes restrictions that do not allow “unfettered access to city emails,” which has hampered the investigation. He said the Law Department requires that his office submit requests for emails using limited search terms and date ranges.
“Given the lack of direct access to emails,” Ferguson said that his office “cannot be certain it has identified all relevant documents.”
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Bill McCaffrey, a Law Department spokesman, said restrictions on email searches are needed to protect the integrity of the inspector general’s investigation, any attorney-client privileges and the city’s “limited resources.”
“The protocol allows up to 20,000 emails to be produced at a time, however, we greatly exceeded that count in this investigation and have accommodated similar requests every other time the Inspector General has requested a larger search,” McCaffrey said.
Hansen’s misuse of a city computer was so prevalent that, in one four-month period alone, he called up sexually explicit, age-restricted YouTube videos and visited other internet sites unrelated to city business on “thousands of occasions,” the report found. Durkin also was cited for sending and receiving sexually explicit photos and videos on his city email account.
Emanuel aides have defended the mayor, underscoring his response to the investigation that has toppled Hansen, whose father is former 44th Ward Ald. Bernie Hansen, Durkin and three others. The biggest casualty came in May when Emanuel collected the resignation of water Commissioner Barrett Murphy, a friend of the mayor whose wife, Lynn Lockwood, is a former chairman and treasurer of one of Emanuel’s political funds and is close to his wife, Amy Rule.
At the time, the mayor’s office said Emanuel acted “quickly and decisively” by asking Murphy and top deputy William Bresnahan to step down after learning of what was then an 8-month-old Ferguson investigation.
“Mayor Emanuel has been clear that the conduct uncovered by the OIG’s investigation does not reflect Chicago’s values and will not be tolerated, which is why he acted swiftly to address the issue and bring in new leadership at the Department of Water Management,” spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said Monday in response to the report.
And Emanuel’s newly installed water department Commissioner Randy Conner, an African-American, said his agency “has a zero-tolerance policy on racism and sexism” and “will continue to take all appropriate measures to fully enforce this policy up to and including termination, or separation” from the department.
The City Council’s chairman of the black caucus, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, said he is glad the investigation is continuing and bringing the issues to light. “I’m hoping under new leadership that they can address this head-on and eliminate that cancer that was eating away, permeating. right through the department.”
In late June, Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers, and John “Jack” Lee Jr., a district superintendent, were placed on administrative leave pending disciplinary decisions and now have resigned.
Durkin sent email from his city account that referred to Muslims as “rag head c— suckers,” according to the inspector general. He also suggested that people should have thrown grenades at a black Italian politician instead of bananas, the report said.
In Monday’s report, it was Hansen’s attempt to make light of a spike of violence in largely black neighborhoods during a previous July Fourth holiday that figured prominently. The report said Hansen’s email to multiple high-ranking water department officials started with the subject line: “Chicago Safari Tickets.” The report doesn’t name the recipients.
“If you didn’t book a Chicago Safari adventure with us this 4th of July weekend this is what you missed,” the report quoted the email as saying. The date of this email and others were not provided in the report. The comment was followed by lists of the number of people shot in South and West side neighborhoods including Englewood, Garfield Park, Austin, Lawndale, South Shore and Woodlawn.
“Remember all Chicago Safari packages include 3 deluxe ‘Harold’s Chicken’ meals a day,” the report quoted Hansen’s email as saying. “We guarantee that you will see at least one kill and five crime scenes per three day tour. You’ll also see lots and lots of animals in their natural habitat. Call and book your Chicago Safari today.”
Four white people in safari gear are depicted as taking pictures of several black people who are trying to break into a car, the report said.
Durkin replied to the safari email with a message that described African-Americans as “wild animals” who are “untamed,” the report said.
Among the email’s photographs, the report said, was one of a “wheelbarrow full of watermelons with a sign stating, “Apply for a Credit Card. Free Watermelons.'” It was sent to a high-ranking official with the subject line: “U Know U Be In Da Hood.”
The email with the African-American child in a bucket and a piece of watermelon came with a message: “As an apology — Paula Deen Opens Swimming Pool for Youth.” A celebrity chef, Deen became the object of widespread ridicule when she said in a 2013 deposition that she used a racial slur. Deen, who was dropped by the Food Network, later apologized.
Ferguson said both Hansen and Durkin were designated as having resigned in lieu of discharge, and they will be placed on the ineligible-for-rehire list.
In another water department case, Ferguson recommended that a chemist who allegedly harassed a current water worker and a former employee be fired. Ferguson alleged the chemist made multiple derogatory text messages and phone calls, citing him for “aggressive and threatening behavior,” according to the report.
The department fired the chemist, who is fighting the termination.
Chicago Tribune’s Hal Dardick contributed.