EDITORIAL: WHO WILL STAND UP FOR DAVID KOSCHMAN?
Published March 21, 2011
Who will stand up for David Koschman?
Who will get to the bottom of how he died and who is to blame? Who will restore the public’s confidence that there is a single standard of justice in Chicago, with no platinum privileges for the nephews of mayors?
In seven stories over three weeks, Chicago Sun-Times reporters have exposed in convincing detail how the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office failed to thoroughly investigate a drunken encounter outside a Division Street bar on April 25, 2004, that led to Koschman’s death. The Sun-Times has presented a wealth of new information that suggests that law enforcement officials at every stage – from beat cops to homicide detectives to area commanders to assistant state’s attorneys – wanted no part of this case and all but ran away from it.
For 12 days, witnesses were not interviewed. For a month, there was no police lineup. To this day, the man police say threw the punch that led to Koschman’s death has never been questioned. Nobody was keen to solve this one. And why might this be? We fear the explanation is obvious. We fear it’s because the man who threw the punch, Richard J. Vanecko, is a nephew of Mayor Richard M. Daley. But if we are wrong in that conclusion – if in fact the lax and sloppy manner in which Koschman’s death was investigated was not unusual – then the only conclusion left is worse: Death investigations in Chicago are pursued with a distressing casualness all the time.
The death of David Koschman cries out for an independent re-investigation. The original police work, every halfhearted step of it, demands investigation as well. Who will stand up for David Koschman? We would like to see Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appoint a special prosecutor, ideally at the request of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who would bring the case before a grand jury. We urge this action though we fully understand there are drawbacks to this approach, beginning with the fact that the statute of limitations for any plausible charge, such as involuntary manslaughter, has expired. Nobody would fairly call this a murder, though there’s no statute of limitations on murder. Not for a minute does anybody believe that Vanecko anticipated what would happen when he threw that punch – that Koschman would fall backward, hit his head on the street, suffer a brain injury and die 12 days later. It is possible, in fact, that a full investigation of this drunken encounter – the full investigation that was never done – would end with no charges being filed.
We would like to see U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald investigate whether the original police work was a whitewash, but again there are problems. To make a federal case of this, Fitzgerald might require evidence of, say, a federal civil rights violation or a hate crime, which would be a stretch. A third option – and perhaps the least problematic – would be for City of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson to open an investigation into whether the Chicago Police and state’s attorney handled the investigation of Koschman’s death competently. Did the police, for example, fail to follow protocol when they waited 25 days to even try to interview Vanecko? Did they throw out the rule book when they waited a month to hold the lineup? And where was Mayor Daley’s hand in this? Were detectives afraid to press forward in the usual fashion? Did anybody suggest that they “lay off” this one?
In less than a month, Chicago will have a new mayor and a new police chief. For the sake of public confidence in the city’s police and criminal justice system, they too must stand up for David Koschman.