EDITORIAL: THE PRICE OF JUSTICE, CHICAGO-STYLE
Published April 13, 2015
Let’s review the going price when the City of Chicago screws up.
If the Chicago Police kill a teenager armed only with a knife by shooting him 16 times, quite likely unnecessarily, the city will pay his family $5 million.
Sounds fair to us.
If the city destroys a collection of rare phonographic records by accidentally flooding the basement of a house, it will pay the homeowners $325,000.
Sure, why not. Vintage records can be worth a lot of money.
If the Chicago Police completely botch – or, in the opinion of a plaintiff’s lawyers, willfully derail – two separate investigations into the death of a young man who was punched by a mayor’s nephew, the city will pay the dead man’s mother $250,000.
Got that? Just $250,000. The city will pay less for a decade of police incompetence and corruption in a politically hot homicide case than for destroying a bunch of old records in a basement.
So goes justice, Chicago-style.
The Chicago City Council Finance Committee approved all three legal settlements on Monday. The full Council is to vote on them on Wednesday.
By paying the $250,000, the city will end a civil suit brought by Nanci Koschman, the mother of David Koschman, who was 21 in 2004 when he died after being punched by Richard J. Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Mrs. Koschman has agreed to the settlement, apparently deciding it’s the best she can do. Her civil suit was thrown out last summer by a judge who said she had filed too late, and her chances of prevailing on appeal are hard to predict. She still may also reach out-of-court settlements with Vanecko and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
It is also true that $250,000 is not chump change, certainly not for Mrs. Koschman, whose financial means are modest.
But if the aim here is to send a message that police misconduct carries a heavy price, we’d say City Hall and the cops are getting off easy. A considerably larger and still entirely justified sum, say $1 million, would have sent a much clearer message.
Now it falls even more to City Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who is conducting his own investigation, to hold the city responsible and push for disciplinary action against all police officers who slow-walked or impeded the Koschman investigation. The good name of the Chicago Police Department is on the line. The public would like to believe it does not play favorites.
Where are the demotions? Where are the dismissals? Where is the honest accounting?
What should be done, for example, about Detective James Gilger, who according to a grand jury report written by Special Prosecutor Dann Webb, claimed that Koschman yelled “F- you! I’ll kick your ass!” moments before Vanecko punched him? Webb could find no witness anywhere who reported hearing this.
Webb wrote that he considered filing charges against six current Chicago Police officers, including Gilger, but decided there was insufficient evidence to convict them.
But the Chicago Police can still take disciplinary action, as can the state’s attorney’s office, which also did not – in the words of a judge – “cover itself in glory.”
We await Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s recommendations.