By Austin Berg
Chicago police officers implicated in the wake of a political scandal within the Chicago Police Department, or CPD, have retired, dodging disciplinary action while holding on to pensions worth more than $100,000 a year, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Nearly two months ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration received a report from the office of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson that advocated for discipline – including termination – for six police officers.
Each was involved in an alleged cover-up of a 2004 involuntary manslaughter case wherein Richard Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, punched David Koschman in the face, leaving him comatose on the street. Koschman died 11 days later. Vanecko pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in January 2014.
Since Ferguson delivered his report – one that Chicago police unions fought to derail – three of the officers he recommended for discipline have retired and are set to collect large pension payouts.
The Sun-Times reported that police in 2004 began investigating Vanecko’s assault of Koschman, who did not die immediately of the injuries he sustained. The investigating officers stopped looking into the case within hours, however, and only started up again after Koschman’s death 11 days later. When law enforcement brought in some of Koschman’s friends to identify a suspect, they couldn’t point out the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko in a lineup filled with even larger police officers. The department tabled the case and did not charge Vanecko.
In 2011, a series of reports by the Chicago Sun-Times prompted the re-opening of the case. But police quickly closed it, determining Vanecko had acted in self-defense. This led Koschman’s mother to request a special prosecutor in the case; a Cook County circuit judge granted her request and appointed Dan Webb to the role.
Webb found evidence that after the case was re-opened, former Chief of Detectives Dean Andrews – who supervised the re-investigation – and Sargent Sam Cirone sent personal emails containing a fabricated statement from an unidentified witness claiming Koschman had yelled obscenities at Vanecko.
Webb found no evidence of any witness ever giving such a statement, yet it was included in Detective James Gilger’s report of the incident. Gilger’s 2011 report concluded Vanecko had acted in self-defense and recommended the case be closed, even though friends of Koschman disputed that claim and detectives never spoke with Vanecko.
The Sun-Times reports that of the six Chicago police officers singled out for discipline by Ferguson for their roles in the 2011 investigation, three have retired since Ferguson delivered the report.
Andrews, 51, and former Commander Joseph Salemme, 56, retired in early December 2015. Salemme was named 52 times in Webb’s report, while Andrews was named 114 times, according to the Sun-Times. Reporters Tim Novak and Chris Fusco say Andrews and Salemme are getting pensions that “top $100,000 a year.”
They also report that Gilger announced his last day would be Jan. 31. His salary as of September 2015 was more than $125,000.
These three men are therefore no longer subject to discipline. If the three remaining officers still on the city payroll – including Cirone – choose to retire, they won’t be either.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the key officers and other CPD officials involved in the initial 2004 investigation of the Koschman case have retired.
A Chicago Tribune poll found that over 60 percent of Chicagoans think cover-ups and a code of silence are “a widespread problem” within CPD.