Editorial: Secrets of how Chicago works may hide in grand jury record

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David Koschman

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We would like to know what Rich Daley said about a questionable investigation into the death of a young man who was killed by the former mayor’s nephew.

Daley’s written statement was read to a grand jury. What did he say he knew? What did he say he did?

Daley was, after all, the mayor of Chicago at the time his nephew, Richard J. Vanecko, punched 21-year-old David Koschman.

We would like to know what Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said to investigators. Alvarez is running for re-election in the March 15 primary. Voters might find this to be useful information.

EDITORIAL

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Above all, we would like to know what every police officer involved in two botched investigations into Koschman’s death — two indisputable cover-ups — may have said to the grand jury or in a statement. In a day when demonstrators fill Chicago’s streets to protest police misconduct, our city cannot tolerate official secrets.

It is time Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin unsealed the entire grand jury file — every transcript, official document, subpoena, letter, email, phone record and memo. It is no longer the case, if ever it was, that releasing the materials could compromise ongoing investigations. More than 2 1/2 years out, those investigations are over and done.

The public has a right to know every detail of how the Chicago Police handled Koschman’s death, as best it can be known. The best way to guard against such skullduggery in the future is to expose it to the brightest disinfecting light. The public also has a right to know how the grand jury, led by Special Prosecutor Dan K. Webb, conducted its investigation into the cops and City Hall.

We agree as well with the Better Government Association, which has filed suit to obtain records, that City Hall should release certain additional relevant information: Copies of any subpoenas issued to city defendants and any emails between Webb’s office and the city defendants.

When Judge Toomin first ordered that the grand jury materials be kept under seal, on June 14, 2012, he was following a recommendation from Webb, who argued that releasing the materials could do harm to ongoing investigations.

But Vanecko since then has pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 60 days in jail. And the six police officers Webb found fault with by name in his final report have since quit the police force, avoiding punishment, or face suspensions without pay.

Last week, Lt. Denis Walsh resigned, one week after interim Supt. John Escalante moved to fire him because of his role in the 2011 re-investigation of Koschman’s killing. Walsh, who had been suspended without pay, now can collect an annual pension of as much as $90,000.

Chief of Detectives Constantine “Dean” Andrews retired in December, escaping punishment, with an annual pension of more than $106,000. Cmdr. Joseph Salemme also retired in December, ducking punishment, with an annual pension of $117,000. Detective James Gilger retired in January, escaping punishment.

Gilger’s detective partner, Nicholas Spanos, and their supervisor, Sgt. Sam Cirone, face one-year suspensions without pay. Both men are too young — under age 50 — to be eligible for retirement.

There is a shame in all this, a reason once again for the Chicago Police and City Hall to hang their heads. The city could have pursued disciplinary action against all six of these officers much earlier, before four of them rode off into the sunset.

As early as Sept. 18, 2013, the day Webb completed his investigation, the police superintendent had sufficient legal grounds to suspend or fire the officers. But the mayor’s office chose to wait for a report and recommendations from Inspector General Joe Ferguson — and then sat on the report for almost two months while the four retired.

What is left to hide? We’re hoping nothing. Releasing all the grand jury materials is not about head-hunting. It’s about a lesson in civics. Plenty of Chicagoans, ourselves included, suspect they might learn a few things about how this city really works.

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