Police called to high school after official alleges altercation with Illinois senator

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS
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Chicago police last month were called to a Far Southwest Side high school where a school official reported getting into an altercation with a man he identified as an Illinois state senator over a cellphone that had been confiscated from a student.

The school official accused Democratic state Sen. Willie Preston of slapping his hand, causing a pen to fly out of it, after the lawmaker refused to sign his name in a log at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in order to retrieve a cellphone that belonged to a relative who was a student at the school, according to sources and a police report.

Police filled out a report on the incident, but no charges have been filed.

In two interviews with the Tribune, Preston said he had no knowledge of an altercation at the school. Asked about it again during the late October legislative session in Springfield, Preston said he had no comment.

When the Tribune in the second interview showed Preston a still image from footage recorded by a surveillance camera located outside the school’s main office on the same day and around the same time as the incident in the police report, Preston said, “That looks like me. That’s me.”

Still, he continued to say he had no knowledge of any incident at the school.

“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about it to this day,” he said during an interview during a constituent event on Oct. 11 in the city’s Auburn Gresham community.

Preston went on to say he had met with the school official that reports say was involved in the altercation, who he identified by name. But he did not say what the meeting was about.

“What I can tell you is I had a very productive meeting with (the school official) yesterday, I believe, or the day before yesterday ... I had a very productive meeting with him.

“All of my meetings with (the school official) have involved something that pertains to the school or my children. Nothing in my official capacity by the way. So, I’m just a parent there. That’s it. So, I don’t know anything about (this).”

The school official’s accusations in a Chicago Public Schools incident report are similar to those in a Chicago police report.

The CPS and police reports provided to the Tribune both redact the name of the person accused by the school official. Sources familiar with the incident confirmed the person named in the police department’s report is Preston.

The CPS report references an individual involved in the incident who “runs a business and is a public servant.” According to Preston’s biography on the Illinois General Assembly website, he runs a construction firm in addition to being a state senator.

The school official declined to comment, referring inquiries to a CPS spokesperson.

A CPS spokesperson would only say the “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) takes all incidents seriously and addresses them in accordance with CPS policies and procedures.”

According to a redacted police report obtained through an open records request, a person sources identified as Preston went to pick up the phone at about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 after it was confiscated from his relative during a test.

The individual walked past a front desk without signing in even though a security guard told him to stop and that he must sign in, according to the report.

The man ignored the security guard and continued past her on his way to the school’s main office to retrieve the phone. The school official told the man he needed to sign a log stating that he was picking up the phone before it could be given to him, according to sources and the police report.

The school official offered the man a pen and log sheet, but the man slapped the official’s hand, the report said. An argument followed before the man signed the log and was given the cellphone.

Preston was elected to his seat last November and has served since January, representing a swath of Chicago’s South and Southwest sides and southwest suburbs. He has served on the board of a local school council for a South Side elementary school, as well as the board of the Chicagoland YMCA’s early childhood education program, and was also an organizer for a group pushing for police accountability, according to his General Assembly biography.

When he was first contacted by the Tribune about the incident last month, Preston, who is up for reelection next year, appeared to chalk up the allegations to political chicanery.

“You know election season has kicked off,” he said.