District lawmakers on Monday charged that loose controls at the city’s parks department let college-age employees have free run of city pools after hours, including at least twice last month when young women allege that they were sexually assaulted by employees at the city’s premier swimming facility.
The alleged attacks at the $35 million Wilson Aquatic Center, as well as weeks of delay in releasing details about the investigations, prompted an emergency hearing Monday by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), whose committee recently gained oversight authority of city parks.
“What have you done about this?” Cheh said, raising her voice in one of many tense exchanges with interim parks director Sharia Shanklin. “Who knew, or should have known, what was going on at the pools?”
Shanklin asserted that the alleged attacks at the Tenleytown facility appeared to be isolated incidents carried out by employees who broke departmental rules — one who has been fired, she said, and another who has been suspended. No criminal charges had been filed in the cases as of Monday evening, D.C. police said.
But the hearing ultimately raised more questions than it answered about security and management of some of the city’s most popular facilities.
Shanklin said the parks department does not routinely monitor security cameras at its eight indoor public pools. She also said an internal review launched in response to the alleged sexual assaults has found repeated instances of alarm systems being left unarmed at night, and security logs that show city employees have entered multiple facilities after posted closing times.
“Our facilities are not being armed on a daily basis . . . and there have been entries at points shortly after closure,” Shanklin said. “I can say that the reports show inconsistencies that we are investigating.”
But Shanklin also suggested that some employees in the parks’ “risk management” department may have known previously about after-hours access to facilities.
Under the department’s protocols, she said, those internal monitors may have only sent alerts about the incursions to the pool managers and assistant managers who may have been entering the facilities.
Cheh said she was told that the pool’s former manager was 21, and that some assistant managers, who also have keys and access codes for alarms, are younger.
Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said the lax security appeared to flow from a failure of leadership in the department, which was until recently headed by Jesus Aguirre.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) recently nominated Aguirre to the high-profile post of state superintendent of education. Grosso said that nomination, which will come before the council for a vote, could be affected by the pool issues.
“This is a very serious situation,” Grosso said. “We’re trying to determine if that’s an appropriate nomination . . . and the management practices we’re talking about shed some light on whether he should be confirmed in his new role.”
Aguirre defended his record, saying it would be misguided to draw conclusions about his management based on the conduct of one or more employees. “The alleged incident is an aberration, not the norm,” he said.
According to authorities, D.C. police are investigating a report of a rape the morning of Nov. 26 at the Wilson pool, which is adjacent to Wilson High School.
A police report says the woman, 23, was intoxicated and does not recall what happened to her, but a witness later described the incident to her. According to the report, the employee told police “that he knew the victim was intoxicated” and had sex with her. Authorities said the incident occurred in a locker room.
After that woman came forward, two others reported attacks that allegedly occurred weeks earlier, on Nov. 9. The young women said they had gone to the pool with two workers who used keys to enter.
Kent Slowinski, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said the age of the pool managers was inadequate for a multimillion-dollar facility. He said the young workers and parks department leadership have been unresponsive to those who had raised concerns about maintenance and upkeep.
Slowinski and others also took issue with the parks department not alerting neighbors to the nature of the investigations.
“This is an extraordinary facility, the jewel in the crown of DPR,” Cheh said. “It makes it especially painful to see that people have developed concerns about using it because DPR has been so inadequate in communicating” about the investigations.