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More Chicago water department emails show attempted gun deals and making light of city violence

Ray Long and Todd Lighty, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- 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.

Ousted district water superintendent Paul Hansen, who is white, emailed with individuals over personal purchases or sales of at least four firearms and five cars, according to the report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. Hansen's emails about gun deals started the investigation over his use of a government email account for personal business, which is against city rules. And it quickly spread to other Hansen emails and 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 during a July 4th weekend where tourists are guaranteed a chance to 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 alleged anti-Muslim and anti-black emails was Thomas J. Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers who retired 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.


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 4th weekend in Chicago.

As Emanuel seeks to recapture support from African American voters still upset over his handling of the fatal police shooting video 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.


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