6 cops faced punishment, but 3 quit first
Published Jan. 31, 2016
By TIM NOVAK and CHRIS FUSCO
For nearly two months, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has been sitting on a report urging punishment — including firing — of the police officers who failed to charge a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley with killing David Koschman.
But the Chicago Sun-Times has learned that six cops have been singled out for discipline in the report that City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson delivered to City Hall several weeks ago.
Pressed for weeks by the Sun-Times about the delay in disciplining cops, Emanuel’s acting police Supt. John Escalante said Friday he is “pursuing” punishments that “range from suspension without pay to job termination” for cops involved in the Koschman case.
But Escalante refused to identify any of the six cops Ferguson urged be sanctioned until formal disciplinary charges are filed with the Chicago Police Board — something that hasn’t been done yet.
Escalante’s statement comes two years after Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, exposing what Koschman family lawyers labeled a coverup that had allowed him to escape criminal charges for years. Escalante is among several candidates seeking to become the city’s next top cop.
In the time since Ferguson sent his report recommending discipline for the six cops to the Chicago Police Department, the mayor’s office and Emanuel’s law department, three of the officers have retired, so they are no longer subject to disciplinary action.
Former Chief of Detectives Constantine G. “Dean” Andrews, 51, and former Cmdr. Joseph P. Salemme, 56, retired in early December. Andrews — whose retirement came just two months after he was promoted to chief of detectives by former Supt. Garry McCarthy — and Salemme are getting pensions that top $100,000 a year.
Detective James G. Gilger, 58, also has decided to retire. His last day is Sunday, he said on Facebook.
The other officers — Lt. Denis P. Walsh, Sgt. Sam J. Cirone and detective Nicholas J. Spanos — remain on the city payroll. But they also could avoid any punishment by retiring.
Dan K. Webb, the court-appointed special prosecutor who charged Vanecko, also considered charging the six cops with obstructing justice or official misconduct but decided he lacked the evidence to convict them.
Emanuel and McCarthy directed Ferguson to determine whether any officers should be disciplined after Vanecko’s guilty plea on Jan. 31, 2014.
The plea came nearly three years after the police, asserting that Vanecko acted in self-defense, closed the case as Daley was preparing to retire as mayor. Vanecko hadn’t made the self-defense claim himself. He had refused to speak to police or prosecutors.
Escalante’s decision to discipline the Koschman cops — a group that includes clout-heavy officers with long histories of complaints, including Walsh, who was once charged with sexual assault — comes amid a civil rights investigation of the police department by the U.S. Department of Justice in the wake of public outrage following the release of video showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a cop.
City Hall also has hired a law firm, Greenberg Traurig, to review Ferguson’s findings.
Emanuel’s office and his law department have refused to release Ferguson’s recommendations. On Christmas Eve, they rejected Sun-Times requests, made under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, seeking Ferguson’s report.
City Hall maintained that the inspector general’s records are confidential, saying the report contains material from the grand jury impaneled by Webb. The grand jury records remain sealed by Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin.
“Particularly in light of pressing questions about transparency and delays in disclosure, it is very distressing to learn that the inspector general’s report was completed months ago and has not been released to the public,” say attorneys Locke Bowman and G. Flint Taylor, who have been representing Koschman’s mother, Nanci Koschman. “The Emanuel administration can’t possibly think the public isn’t interested.”
Thomas Needham, an attorney representing Andrews and Salemme, called Ferguson’s recommendations “idiotic.”
“I am tempted to say the inspector general’s findings are a joke,” Needham said Saturday. “But this case has been no laughing matter to the law enforcement professionals whose reputations have been damaged by this farce of an investigation.
“All of the detectives and all of the supervisors involved in the Chicago Police Department’s reinvestigation of the Koschman/Vanecko case are fair and competent investigators,” Needham said. “None of them were political, none had any affiliation with Mayor Daley or his family, and certainly none of them had any reason to jeopardize their careers or good names to help Mr. Vanecko. In fact, in private, they were highly critical of Mayor Daley.”
The city’s decision to finally discipline police officers is the latest twist in a saga that began on April 25, 2004, when Vanecko, then 29, punched Koschman, 21, during a drunken encounter on a sidewalk outside the late-night bars along Division Street. Vanecko and a friend ran away. Koschman died 11 days later of severe brain injuries.
The initial police investigation ended in less than a month after witnesses couldn’t identify the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko in a lineup that included five Chicago cops who were all bigger or taller. The case remained open and unsolved.
When the Sun-Times requested the case files in January 2011, the police reinvestigated, closing the case without charging Daley’s nephew.
A series of Sun-Times stories revealed holes and inconsistencies in the department’s 2004 and 2011 investigations, among them missing case files and statements having been attributed to witnesses that the witnesses said they’d never made.
Over the objection of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Toomin granted a request from Koschman’s mother to appoint Webb, a former U.S. attorney, as special prosecutor to investigate Koschman’s death and the handling of the case by police and prosecutors.
Webb’s investigation led to the criminal charge against Vanecko. But Webb said he couldn’t charge anyone from the police department involved in the 2004 investigation because of the statute of limitations. And he said he lacked enough evidence to charge any cops who were involved in the 2011 investigation.
Ferguson’s investigation enraged two police unions representing sergeants and lieutenants.
The unions argued that their contracts dictate that disciplinary investigations be handled by the department’s internal affairs division — which previously investigated Walsh over the missing files. But since IAD had been involved in the case, McCarthy said Ferguson should weigh any disciplinary action against the cops — a decision the unions fought, which delayed any punishment for months. An arbitrator ruled against the unions last August.
Andrews, Salemme, Cirone, Gilger and Spanos all had been involved in authoring or approving the police report that closed the case, which said Koschman yelled “F— you! I’ll kick your ass!” before “breaking away from his group of friends and aggressively going after Vanecko.”
Webb found no evidence that Koschman ever said that. But the statement still ended up in the final police report after being discussed in a series of emails that Andrews and Cirone exchanged via personal email accounts the night before Gilger and Spanos submitted the report on Feb. 28, 2011.
Walsh, a 29-year veteran of the department, was involved in four instances of missing files in the case, including some files he took home, Webb found.
Though Walsh had no official role in the 2004 or 2011 investigations, Webb also found evidence Walsh was communicating in 2011 with detectives from both investigations. Webb never explained why.
Court records show that, in 2013, Webb turned over the evidence he gathered in the Koschman case to the FBI, including Special Agent Vick Lombardo. Lombardo is involved in the Justice Department probe of the police department prompted by the release of the McDonald video.
Four of the Koschman cops — Salemme, Walsh, Cirone and Spanos — have received “merit promotions” over the years, all moving into higher-paying positions based in part on recommendations from higher-ranking officers in the department. Spanos, for one, became a detective based on the recommendation of Andrews.
All six cops have had multiple complaints filed against them by citizens or members of the department, records show. Gilger has had 28 complaints, Spanos 25 complaints, Salemme 21, Andrews 18, Cirone 17 and Walsh 28. Nearly all of those complaints were dismissed.
Walsh has been disciplined five times — more than any of the other officers. His longest suspension came after he was arrested in Michigan in 2004 on a charge of criminal sexual assault, accused of groping and licking a clerk at a gas station in an incident caught on surveillance video. That felony arrest could have cost Walsh his job. But he ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, after the victim stopped cooperating, and he was fined $600. Then-Police Supt. Phil Cline suspended Walsh for 30 days.
Walsh received a merit promotion to lieutenant in October 2004 — about two weeks before he pleaded guilty in the Michigan case. In 2010, he was promoted to oversee all North Side detectives.
Walsh comes from a police family. His late father was a commander in the old Rogers Park district when he got in hot water for refusing to press criminal charges against a son of ward boss Ed Kelly after Kelly’s son was arrested for carrying a gun in a restaurant.
Walsh’s brother was a high-ranking Chicago cop. Walsh’s nephew is a cop. Walsh’s wife was a cop. Her father is a retired detective, and her sister was a member of Daley’s police security detail. Walsh’s uncle was a high-ranking cop whose son, Walsh’s cousin, is a police captain.
Cirone also comes from a police family. His late father was a detective.
Dan Herbert, an attorney representing Walsh and Cirone, said, “I don’t know how the police department is going to find that my clients committed a rule violation, so I’m curious to see the findings” that Escalante presents to the police board.
After Vanecko pleaded guilty two years ago, Koschman’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Daley nephew, City Hall, the police department, 21 cops, Alvarez and other prosecutors. A judge threw out the suit, saying Nanci Koschman had waited too long to file it. After she appealed, the city settled with her for $250,000, and Alvarez settled for another $50,000.
Three of Alvarez’s top prosecutors involved in the Koschman case have gone on to be judges: U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey, Cook County Circuit Judge John Mahoney and Associate Cook County Judge Shauna Boliker.
One of Vanecko’s attorneys, Marc Martin, has been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacant Cook County judgeship. Martin is seeking election to that seat in the March primary.