An emotional Nanci Koschman hurriedly read through a prepared statement for reporters Monday, her voice on the verge of cracking, her sister at her side for moral support.
Three years in the public eye have not made these appearances much easier for the mother of David Koschman, who died at the hands of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko in a 2004 crime that just won’t go away.
But the proof of her increased strength was in the hands of the reporters gathered before her — a 44-page federal lawsuit bearing her name that accuses Chicago Police, Cook County prosecutors and unnamed Daley family members of an “official cover-up” of Vanecko’s role in Koschman’s death.
Nanci Koschman, who still blames herself for not having the strength to look into the circumstances surrounding her son’s death in its immediate aftermath, took responsibility for bringing the strongest accusations yet against those responsible for allowing the crime to go unpunished.
In a lawsuit filed by lawyers Locke Bowman and G. Flint Taylor, Koschman accused some two dozen police and prosecutors by name of conspiring to protect Vanecko by fabricating and manipulating evidence.
Bowman and Taylor based their allegations almost entirely on the investigative work of special prosecutor Dan K. Webb, who secured a guilty plea from Vanecko for involuntary manslaughter while detailing the police missteps in a lengthy report.
Notably, however, Webb’s report stopped short of drawing many of the conclusions made by Koschman’s lawyers.
In essence, the lawyers took the Webb report and applied the most damning interpretation possible to its findings, alleging intentional cover-up where Webb was generally more ambiguous.
“We’re involved in drawing reasonable inferences as lawyers,” Taylor explained to reporters.
Others have looked at the same set of facts and inferred a less damning interpretation that the investigation was botched, not fixed.
I’ve always believed that if you could get to the bottom of it, you’d find some of both.
“We don’t know what happened, to be very clear,” Bowman said.
Bowman was referring specifically to an allegation in the lawsuit that Vanecko informed the mayor or someone close to him about the Koschman incident the night it happened, and that they in turn notified high-ranking officials in the police department, setting in motion the effort to protect Vanecko.
I think it’s fair to say that if called upon today, they couldn’t prove many of the accusations made in the suit.
But the lawsuit will allow them to conduct their own fact-finding and place those involved under oath to answer the difficult questions Webb left unresolved. As Bowman noted, it will also allow them to issue subpoenas, which might start by seeking the underlying documents from the Webb probe.
“One of the things this lawsuit is about is getting answers,” Bowman said.
A month ago there was hope federal investigators might be interested in doing this work after it was disclosed Webb had consulted with FBI agents about his evidence. But we haven’t really seen any indications of a separate federal probe underway.
We’ve also been expecting city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to weigh in on the Koschman investigation, although the lawsuit might complicate those efforts.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, which has not shown itself to be in any hurry to discipline police implicated in the Webb report, will now find itself in the uncomfortable position of defending the suit.
I’ve been on record as hoping Nanci Koschman could avoid filing a civil suit, knowing it would introduce the question of financial gain into the situation when I know that’s not what motivates her.
But under the circumstances, I have to salute her for having the courage to take the fight further. As comprehensive as it was, Webb’s report still left us hanging on many key points.
Koschman’s choice of lawyers tells you all you need to know about her intent. She didn’t pick the big-name trial lawyers best known for winning large settlements. In Taylor and Bowman, she went with two guys known for being willing to challenge the power structure and to never go away quietly.
“Nothing is ever going to take away my pain, but at least I’ll know I fought for him,” she said.
Nanci Koschman can’t walk away from this fight yet, and neither should we.