CHICAGO (STMW) — The director of the anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois said Sunday that he’s innocent of the domestic violence charge he’s facing and that he experienced a “spiritual awakening” in the Cook County Jail after his arrest for allegedly punching and kicking his wife.

Tio Hardiman, 50, has been placed on administrative leave from CeaseFire.

“I know it’s a funny place to have a spiritual awakening, but I had one in jail,” said Hardiman, who was arrested Friday in West Suburban Hillside.

“I am innocent of these charges,” said Hardiman, who emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of CeaseFire, which is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I’ve been with my wife for 13 years and never had a problem like this.”

Hardiman was released on a $20,000 bond Saturday on a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery. His 47-year-old wife suffered bruises, a cut to her neck and a swollen lip Friday morning, prosecutors said.

Hardiman said he hasn’t been able to speak to his wife because she obtained an order of protection.

Prosecutors said Hardiman was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery in 1999. He declined to comment on the conviction, except to say “I’m human” and that he was surprised prosecutors mentioned it.

“I still am a champion for the people,” Hardiman said. “I would hope everybody continues to support the good work of CeaseFire and its 100 employees. … Hopefully I will be vindicated and get back to work.”

Dr. Gary Slutkin, the founder of CeaseFire and the director of Cure Violence, the organization that oversees CeaseFire, released a statement saying, “We are troubled to learn of the allegations concerning Mr. Hardiman.”

“We are deeply concerned about all acts or potential acts of violence, but we are especially saddened when it might happen within our community or family,” Slutkin said.

“As a matter of established policy, CeaseFire and the University of Illinois have zero tolerance for anyone with domestic-related charges, or crimes against women or children, currently or in their background. CeaseFire has developed strict policies to make sure that all employees remain in a good standing. Mr. Hardiman has been placed on administrative leave as we look into further appropriate actions,” Slutkin said.

CeaseFire is working under a $1 million city contract to prevent retaliatory shootings in two high-crime neighborhoods in Chicago. A dozen CeaseFire staff members began working in October in Woodlawn under the one-year contract. Another 12 staffers started in North Lawndale on the West Side.

Hardiman recently noted that there were no murders this year through late May in the two police beats where CeaseFire is working under the contract in Woodlawn.

On Saturday, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader in the City Council, told the Chicago Sun-Times that if Hardiman committed a crime, “it would be appropriate for the city to ask if that’s where we want to spend our money.”

In addition to its work under the city contract, CeaseFire has worked for years in Chicago with funding from the state and other sources. CeaseFire, which has about 100 workers across the city, received international attention from “The Interrupters,” a 2011 documentary that followed its workers as they sought to prevent violence.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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