Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. | Tim Boyle /  Sun-Times file photo

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. | Tim Boyle / Sun-Times file photo

Editorial: Discipline cops before they retire

Published Sept. 22, 2015

Cops should have been suspended by now. Cops should have been fired.

Every new day that goes by without a single Chicago Police Department employee being held to account for botching or subverting the death investigation of David Koschman is another mark against the department. The public has less and less reason to believe nobody is above the law in Chicago.

And every day that goes by without one cop being disciplined adds to the likelihood that nobody ever will. They will all retire first. They will ride off into the sunset, comfortable pensions intact.

This can’t be allowed to happen. The onus is on police Supt. Garry McCarthy, above all, to make sure it does not. We believe he could have taken disciplinary action two years ago.

Eleven years have passed since 21-year-old Koschman died after being punched outside Chicago’s Division Street bars. Two years have passed since a special prosecutor concluded that six Chicago police officials and detectives involved in the investigation might have engaged in official misconduct or obstruction of justice.

A judge appointed the special prosecutor because he believed a key finding of the original police investigators — that the man who punched Koschman had acted in self-defense — had been “conjured up.” Why the police would conjure up anything is perplexing until one understands that the man who threw the punch, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, was a nephew of Chicago’s mayor at the time, Richard M. Daley.

The investigation by special prosecutor Dan K. Webb led to Vanecko pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and serving two months in jail. But Webb also presented evidence of serious wrongdoing by the six police officials and detectives.

At McCarthy’s request — as directed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — City Hall Inspector General Joe Ferguson has been investigating the actions of the six cops and four others, but Ferguson’s efforts have been slowed by police union grievances. Only four weeks ago did an arbitrator finally rule that Ferguson has the authority to investigate the police department, clearing the way for him to finish the job.

Ferguson declined to tell Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Chris Fusco when he might wrap up his investigation, but here’s hoping it is sooner rather than later — weeks, not months.

At that point, the ball falls to McCarthy. Armed with Ferguson’s recommendations, it will be up to the superintendent to fire, suspend or otherwise discipline anybody. He can’t move quickly enough.

In the years since Koschman’s death, all six cops singled out in Webb’s report have done well for themselves, now making as much as $180,000 a year and no less than $125,000. Three of them —  and this should trouble us all — hold high-ranking positions of great power.

Since the day special prosecutor Webb completed his investigation, on Sept. 18, 2013, we believe McCarthy has had sufficient grounds to suspend or fire officers who fell short, willfully or not, of doing their professional job. Webb declined to bring criminal charges, saying the evidence was insufficient, but McCarthy could have taken disciplinary action right then and there.

Instead, officers who apparently fabricated evidence to get Vanecko off the hook, putting words in Koschman’s mouth that no named witness actually heard — “F— you, I’ll kick your ass!” — continue to pull a paycheck from the Chicago Police Department.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So it went for the family of David Koschman for almost a decade. And so it goes to this day for the people of Chicago, who want nothing more than a fully professional police force that covers up for nobody.