Two years after former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew admitted killing David Koschman, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s interim police superintendent moved Wednesday to fire a high-ranking cop involved in the case and suspend two other officers for a year.
Acting Supt. John Escalante wants to fire Lt. Denis P. Walsh — a 29-year veteran who comes from a Chicago police family — over Koschman case files that disappeared and reappeared, including some that Walsh took home after the police closed the case in 2011 without charging Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko.
Escalante is seeking a one-year, unpaid suspension for Sgt. Sam Cirone — a 23-year Chicago Police Department veteran whose father was a detective — over shoddy oversight of Detectives James Gilger and Nicholas Spanos, who closed the case without interviewing witnesses including Daley family members who were with Vanecko hours before he punched Koschman on April 25, 2004.
Spanos — with the department for 20 years — also has been handed a one-year suspension without pay.
All three cops have been stripped of their police powers.
Escalante’s moves came in response to recommendations he received Dec. 4 from City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson that Walsh, Cirone, Spanos and three other cops be punished for their conduct during a 2011 reinvestigation prompted by inquiries from the Chicago Sun-Times.
During the weeks Escalante was reviewing Ferguson’s report, those other three officers retired and avoided departmental disciplinary action. They are Chief of Detectives Constantine “Dean” Andrews, Cmdr. Joseph Salemme and Gilger, who officials say had been planning his retirement for a year.
It’s unclear whether Escalante followed Ferguson’s recommendations on the severity of the punishments.
Escalante filed the internal disciplinary charges against Walsh and Cirone with the Chicago Police Board, which ultimately will decide whether to uphold the punishments. An initial hearing is set for Feb. 23.
Walsh has been suspended without pay pending police board action. Cirone and Spanos are on desk duty for now.
If Spanos fights his suspension, his case also could end up before the police board, a nine-member panel headed by attorney Lori Lightfoot, an Emanuel appointee.
“After a thorough investigation by the inspector general and subsequent legal reviews by outside counsel, interim Superintendent John Escalante concluded that Lt. Denis Walsh, Sgt. Sam Cirone and Detective Nicholas Spanos did not properly follow department policies when they investigated the death of David Koschman,” the police department said in a written statement.
Daniel Herbert, an attorney for Walsh and Cirone, called the disciplinary charges filed by Escalante “vague and baseless.
“Anyone from the police department who signed off on these charges should be embarrassed,” Herbert said. “My clients are two of the most decorated and esteemed members of this department who have ever served.”
Koschman died of severe brain injuries in May 2004, 11 days after he was punched in the face by Vanecko, who then ran away. Witnesses couldn’t pick Vanecko out of a lineup held nearly a month later, and the police left the case open until January 2011, when the Sun-Times made a public records request to see case files.
Walsh told department higher-ups he couldn’t find the original files. So Andrews ordered a reinvestigation of the case, assigning it to Gilger and Spanos, who reported to Cirone and Salemme. Walsh was supposed to have no role in the reinvestigation, which ended on March 1, 2011, when Andrews closed the case, asserting that Vanecko had punched Koschman in self-defense — even though Vanecko, who never spoke with the police, hadn’t made that claim himself.
Daley retired as mayor less than three months later.
A series of Sun-Times stories about the case led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb, and to Vanecko pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter on Jan. 31, 2014, and serving 60 days in jail.
Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko leaving court in December 2012. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Webb’s investigation found that Walsh had been communicating in 2011 with Ronald E. Yawger, the retired detective who failed to solve the case in 2004, and Gilger, the lead detective in the reinvestigation, who told Webb he’d been told not to talk to Yawger.
Escalante is accusing Walsh of violating eight department rules, including “incompetency or inefficiency in the performance of duty,” removing department records and making a false report. Walsh is accused of compromising the 2011 reinvestigation “by communicating with Detective James Gilger and/or retired Detective Ron Yawger and/or exchanging unprofessional emails with Cmdr. Gary Yamashiroya regarding the Koschman homicide investigation.”
A week after the Sun-Times asked to see the Koschman files, Walsh exchanged emails with his supervisor, Yamashiroya, in which he attached a 2004 Sun-Times story that quoted then-police Supt. Phil Cline saying there would be no charges in the Koschman case. “Looks like the case is over……can we get Cline to close it,” Walsh wrote in his email.
Walsh sent another “unprofessional” email six months after that, according to the charges, referring to the suicide of Michael Scott, Daley’s former school board chief.
Escalante is accusing Cirone of breaking five department rules stemming from his supervision of Gilger and Spanos, who failed to interview Officer Edwin Tremore, the beat cop who wrote the first report on Koschman’s injuries; to obtain telephone records from anyone involved in the case; to interview Vanecko’s friend, Craig Denham, regarding where they went after they ran from the scene; and to interview anyone who’d been with Vanecko at an engagement party for his cousin, Katherine Daley, hours before the deadly encounter with Koschman on a sidewalk near the late-night bars along Division Street.
Gilger and Spanos’ final report also included a fabricated statement attributed to Koschman to make it appear as if he was being aggressive toward Vanecko.
An attorney representing Gilger and Spanos couldn’t be reached for comment.
Thomas Needham, an attorney representing Salemme and Andrews, has described the disciplinary investigation of all six officers as “a joke.”
Detective James Gilger. | Facebook