‘Can’t let them get away with this again’
Published March 24, 2014
By CHRIS FUSCO, TIM NOVAK AND CAROL MARIN
Nanci Koschman used to lie awake at night, unable to sleep, because the police blamed her only child, David Koschman, for his own death.
Now, she can’t sleep because she’s angry since learning the police lied to her.
So angry that she has decided to file a federal lawsuit accusing the Chicago Police Department of violating her son’s civil rights.
The Mount Prospect widow says she made that decision after reading the 162-page report of special prosecutor Dan K. Webb. In it, Webb described how police and prosecutors twice botched investigations — in 2004 and 2011 — into her son’s death, never charging Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, whose uncle Richard M. Daley was mayor during both of those investigations.
“It just felt like they didn’t take David’s rights into consideration at all,” Koschman said in an hourlong interview Friday with the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5. “He was like a non-person. They were so busy trying to cover up what wasn’t done properly that they forgot that David existed.
“I was helpless in the hospital for 12 days, and now I feel helpless again. They all worked against me. And they all worked against David — and that makes me upset.”
Webb’s report came out Feb. 4, four days after Vanecko pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, admitting he threw the punch that led to Koschman’s death in 2004.
Vanecko, 39, is now serving a 60-day jail sentence.
The special prosecutor, who brought the charge against Vanecko, also investigated the handling of the case by the police but said he didn’t find enough evidence to convict six police officers he considered charging with crimes from the 2011 investigation. And he said he couldn’t charge any cops involved in the 2004 investigation because the statute of limitations had expired.
Three years ago, Nanci Koschman said she had no interest in filing a lawsuit, that she wanted only to finally learn the truth about her son’s death. But she says Webb’s report “opened more questions” that she hopes a lawsuit can answer, including why the police apparently fabricated statements in their reports to support their conclusion that her son provoked Vanecko to hit him in self-defense.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview with Koschman:
Q: Why have you decided to sue?
A: I just sort of feel like I need to make sure that for future Davids that come along that maybe my small voice can be heard to say “I have to take this on” because I just can’t let them get away with this again.
Q: When you say David’s rights weren’t taken into consideration, are you speaking of the police department, the state’s attorney’s office?
A: Both. They put words in David’s mouth. They told me right from the beginning that I really had no recourse. That there was nothing I could have done. David was at fault. David was the one that would have been charged had he lived. It was all on David’s shoulders, so, being a grieving mother, I just went home and tried to deal with trying to figure out what I did wrong as a parent.
And then when the special prosecutor’s report came out . . . I realized I needed to take a stand for David. They hid files. They destroyed files. They changed files. And the thing that really got me is when they took the case and put words in his mouth saying that Mr. Vanecko felt it was self-defense because David was the aggressor. And I still have a hard time in my mind trying to visualize a 6-foot-3, 230-pound man being afraid of my 5-foot-5, 125-pound son.
Q: Why do think the investigations were botched?
A: They were too busy protecting Mr. Vanecko and maybe, as a result, the Daley family. . . . It’s always been about the cover-up.
Q: Do you think there are more answers you need to get?
A: I’d like to see some of the people face to face. . . . I’d like to see these people and say, “Really? You know you all got together after he punched David, and none of you talked about it? You got in a cab? You went back to the bar? . . . Nobody mentioned a word of it? Come on. Look me in the eye, and tell me that.” The same with the police. “You took the file home?” . . . The state’s attorney who threw the file away. Isn’t that a legal document? . . . It’s been very enlightening. I’m learning things. But while I’m learning, I’m also realizing that I couldn’t have controlled them.
I’m taking aim at everybody who didn’t value David’s life enough and decided to cover it up. I guess now if somebody came up to me and said, “Is it a cover-up?” I could actually answer yes. Do I think it was a cover-up strictly for Daley? Who knows.
It’s been nothing but lies to me. And that’s why I’m doing this now. I didn’t deserve to be lied to. David deserved to be treated as a person. And I’m still advocating for him. . . . . I want to be able to go to the cemetery and say, “I’m still fighting for you, honey. I’m not letting them get away with this.”
Q: Whom do you blame?
A: My anger probably first starts with Detective [Ronald] Yawger because he’s sort of the one that — now, I can say the word bully. At the time, I didn’t think it was bullying. But his first statement to me when he walked in was not, “I’m sorry for the loss of your son.” But the first statement was: “Do you know how drunk your son was?” He took me off-guard the minute he walked in the room. . . . His last statement was: “If you want, you can take these people to court, but they’ll keep you tied up in court for years. You’ll end up with nothing.”
Q: Are you satisfied with the quality of the Webb report?
A: It probably opened more questions. . . . I think things weren’t answered. I think people took immunity. I think people skirted, they didn’t want to admit what they did. . . . I don’t know that I’m ever going to get the whole truth. I don’t know that anybody is ever going to walk up to me and say, “You know, we handled this wrong.”
Q: What do you think of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez?
A: Not very professional. There’s probably some other words I could think of.
Q: The Chicago Police Department?
A: There are crooked cops and bad people — not as a whole. I couldn’t protect David, and now I sort of feel like I want to protect the next David that comes along that gets hurt by somebody that has ties to the city.
Q: Mayor Daley?
A: I probably feel like I was just a blip on his radar. I’m sure someone informed him of it.
Q: Cook County Judge Michael Toomin, who appointed Webb?
A: I’m very pleased with him. He believed in David. . . . He made that statement in court that there was a murder, and nobody was charged. That really summed it up. He knew something was wrong, and I’m very grateful to him.
Q: How will you deal with the assumption by some people that this is really about money?
A: The money, it’s never going to bring me peace. It’s never going to make me happy. I may do something like start a scholarship in David’s name at his school. At Prospect High. . . . It’s not going to make me sleep any better.
I just want the public to know how this case was handled. . . . I want them to be held accountable. Just like I wanted Mr. Vanecko to be held accountable. It was never about him going to jail. . . . It’s like another step in the closure.
The people who I care about know I’m not doing this for the money.
Q: What is your opinion of Dan Webb?
A: I understand statute of limitations. I guess the frustration is in the second part, when they reopened it in 2011. I really wish he could have found something that he could have charged so I didn’t have to do this. Because I never wanted to do this. I never wanted to be the one to bring the suit. But now I feel there’s enough there we can question why they did it. He did his job. I thank him for that. He had a great team. I met a lot of them. I know they worked very hard for David.
Q: What about Vanecko friends Bridget McCarthy and her husband Kevin, who lied to the police about Vanecko’s involvement?
A: The fact that they continued to lie, that he told his wife not to talk to people. You shouldn’t be able to lie to the police and say, “I’m not telling you,” or, “I don’t remember.” . . . That’s very frustrating. Again, those are the kind of the people I’d like to see in their face and go, “Really? Really, you didn’t want to tell them it was R.J.? You didn’t think they were going to figure it out?”
Q: Do you feel you’ve restored some respect for David?
A: A little of it. Yeah. I’m starting. I will feel better when this next part is over if it gets out what they’ve done to him. . . . It’s getting it out to the public to make them understand what happened to this young man from Mount Prospect. That one single punch that night changed so many people’s lives.
I understand it was made in alcohol-induced anger . . . But everything that happened after that, everything that the police did, everything the state’s attorney’s office did and everybody else did, they did that just purely on their own. They made that choice to not go after him.
They made that choice for Detective Yawger to come in and start that. Everything was done with a purpose. And that purpose certainly wasn’t to protect David.