The [Wednesday] Papers
The most ubiquitous headline in the wake of the Koschman report's release on Tuesday seems to have been variations on the theme that "Daley, Family Did Not Try To Influence Koschman Case."
At least in that last example, from the Tribune, the second paragraph noted that "[Special prosecutor Dan] Webb's exhaustive examination of the April 2004 death of David Koschman found that the involvement of Daley's nephew, Richard 'R.J.' Vanecko, colored the initial investigation and a later probe by Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors."
And the third paragraph noted that "There was evidence of city officials closely monitoring the progress of the investigation even as Koschman lay comatose in a hospital and - seven years later - scrambling to exercise damage control when the Chicago Sun-Times started asking questions."
In other words, what the report really shows is that the very reason the Koschman case was bungled almost beyond belief was because of R.J. Vanecko's family - the Daleys.
"What's very clear as you read this report is that no phone call needed to be made," Koschman lawyer Locke Bowman told reporters after the report's release. "Very early on, the Chicago Police Department, whether by intuition or by experience of the realities of life in Cook County and the city of Chicago, got the message that this was no ordinary case."
An examination of the report - and I'm only halfway through it - bears out Bowman's sentiment, and makes mincemeat of the notion that Daley didn't influence the case. He may not have made a phone call - did he ever "make the phone call" while presiding over a City Hall where corruption was encoded in its very DNA? - but he (and his family) created a culture that, in the least, made it very clear that protecting the Daleys was Job 1 in this town, and anyone who violated that premise would face their wrath.
From the report:
"[Det. Ronald] Yawger recalled this 2004 meeting with Ms. Koschman (and her attorney). According to Yawger, during the meeting he explained to Ms. Koschman and her attorney that CPD knew who the offender was, but that CPD could not 'get him charged.' Furthermore, Yawger recalled that he could not provide Ms. Koschman or her lawyer the name of the offender (Vanecko), because the offender had not been charged or identified by witnesses. However, Yawger told the [city's inspector general's office] in 2011 that he did inform Ms. Koschman and her attorney that the offender was a 'pretty prominent figure' and 'not a regular guy walking down the street.'"
The Sun-Times reported the scene this way in 2011:
"There was no case as far as this detective was concerned. It was all my son's fault. He came in with an attitude when he walked in the room, like he was doing me a big favor.
He turned the whole thing to my son started it, provoked it and - I don't want to say this - deserved what he got."
The report released Tuesday, though, shows that the police pretty much knew the truth right away: that the assailant was Vanecko and that he was the mayor's nephew.
No one in the chain of command stepped forward for justice - not at the time of the incident or in the recent reviews that went nowhere until Judge Michael Toomin appointed a special prosecutor.
For example, on Jan. 7, 2012, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said this:
"I don't see any evidence - despite the theories of the journalists who are writing about this case - of a grand conspiracy here either by the police or any prosecutor."
Alvarez said that while explaining why she opposed a special prosecutor. She said she was conducting her own investigation.
Webb's report is unambiguous in detailing wrongdoing. Less clear, though, is why he decided not to hold anyone accountable.
"The special prosecutor in the David Koschman case considered filing criminal charges against six current Chicago police officers for the roles in the 2011 reinvestigation of Koschman's death but decided there wasn't enough evidence to convict them," the Sun-Times reports.
"In a report Tuesday on his investigation, special prosecutor Dan K. Webb identifies them as Deputy Chief of Detectives Constantine 'Dean' Andrews, Area 5 Commander Joseph Salemme, Sgt. Sam Cirone, Lt. Denis P. Walsh and Detectives James Gilger and Nick Spanos.
"Webb says he investigated them over their roles in the Chicago Police Department's 2011 reinvestigation of Koschman's 2004 death.
"Gilger and Spanos wrote the report that identified Vanecko as the man who punched Koschman, leading to his death 11 days later. But the two detectives said they determined the Daley nephew had acted in self-defense. As a result, the police, which had declined to seek criminal charges in 2004, again decided not to file charges in 2011."
In other words, they made up Vanecko's alibi - without ever talking to Vanecko.
"This was a defense conjured up by police and prosecutors," Toomin said when he appointed a special prosecutor, calling it "the fiction of self-defense."
Gilger and Spanos are still on the force, as are the other four officers Webb considered charging.
From the Sun-Times:
"The special prosecutor's investigation identified limited evidence that is arguably consistent with a theory that Gilger and Spanos manufactured CPD's 2011 self-defense determination," Webb wrote. "To begin with, three witness statements recorded by the two detectives have been called into question by these witnesses. In each instance, the inaccuracies identified by the witnesses in these statements tended to support CPD's 2011 determination that Vanecko acted in self-defense."
"The special prosecutor obtained two versions of Gilger and Spanos' concluding case supp - an initial draft from on or about Feb. 11, 2011, and the final draft from on or about Feb. 28, 2011," Webb wrote. "The earlier draft made no mention of self-defense. Furthermore, the special prosecutor obtained e-mails sent during the time in between those two drafts in which Andrews and Cirone discussed 'corrections' related to the subject matter of self-defense. Salemme was copied on one of those e-mails."
And yet, Webb concluded:
"Concerning evidence against Gilger and Spanos, all the issues identified by the special prosecutor are, at most, slight circumstantial evidence of wrongoing - that is, none directly proves that either detective broke the law.
"As for the evidence against Andrews, Salemme and Cirone, none directly proves that any of these individuals violated Illinois law."
Perjury? Obstruction of justice? A lot of poor saps in Chicago get charged for far less.
And so the report actually feels like a letdown. While we learned some details that were new, we were led to believe it would contain bigger bombshells, in part by Webb, who moved to seal it before Vanecko's trial, which, predictably, never happened. I wrote at the time that it seemed odd that Webb would move to seal the file ostensibly to protect the fairness of the proceedings against Vanecko. Isn't that the defense attorney's job? Webb's long career as a protector of power only made the move more suspicious. On the other hand, maybe Webb thought plea negotiations would be easier if free from the noise of the report's findings.
Either way, the case feels less finished than expected.
The Sun-Times is also disappointed.
"We expected more," Tim Novak said on Chicago Tonight last night.
"We thought the investigation would go deeper and higher than it did . . . we always anticipated there would be additional charges."
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Posted on February 5, 2014
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