CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago police conspired to cover up evidence that Mayor Richie Daley's nephew killed a man with a single "brutal" punch a decade ago, the man's mother claims in court.
Nanci Koschman sued Chicago, Richard Vanecko, 21 law enforcement officers, three state's attorneys and Does 1-6, in Federal Court.
Vanecko is the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Koschman claims Vanecko punched and killed her 21-year-old son David early on April 25, 2004, after a verbal altercation.
"While walking along Division [Street], Vanecko and his companions encountered David Koschman and several of his friends - Scott Allen, James Copeland, and David Francis - who were walking west along Division Street. As the groups passed each other, words were exchanged, and an argument ensued," the mother says in the 44-page lawsuit.
"Although the two groups argued, the confrontation was limited to words. Suddenly and without physical provocation, Vanecko punched Koschman square in the face, and did so with brutal force. Vanecko, who was 29 at the time, was 6' 3" and weighed 230 pounds, and according to witnesses had the build of a linebacker. Koschman, who was 21 years old, was 10 inches shorter and 105 pounds lighter than Vanecko, measuring 5' 5" and weighing 125 pounds."
The altercation took place at about 3:15 a.m. near Division and Wells Streets.
"Vanecko's blow was devastating. One witness described hearing a 'snap' sound as the punch was landed. A bystander who was not with either group said that Koschman came flying out from among the arguing groups as if from an 'explosion,' and landed like a dead weight, apparently already unconscious. Vanecko's blow caused David Koschman's lip to swell and bleed, leaving blood on his teeth and lip, and in his mouth," the complaint states.
"Koschman's head struck the pavement, causing massive injuries. He suffered a fracture to the right back of the head, a separate fracture to the left back of the head, and a fracture on the left, inner side of the skull. Doctors would later determine that these injuries caused massive internal bleeding in Koschman's skull. Koschman fell back on the pavement, and would never regain consciousness."
Vanecko fled and informed his uncle, then-Mayor Daley, of the incident, the mother says.
Koschman claims that "from the moment that CPD [Chicago Police Department] commanders learned of Vanecko's involvement in the incident and his relationship to Mayor Daley, the Chicago Police Department's handling of the case, as well as that of other agencies described more fully herein, became an official cover-up. CPD officials, including Defendants [Steven] Chasen, [Richard] Rybicki, and John Does 1-3, stopped the investigation in its tracks."
Although there was plenty of video surveillance of the crime scene, and a number of witnesses, the investigation ended just hours after it began, according to the complaint.
The investigation was reopened when Koschman was removed from life support and died on May 6, 2004, and the medical examiner classified his death as a homicide.
The Police Department assigned defendant Det. Ronald Yawger to the case, but he "never undertook the basic step of canvassing the area where the crime had occurred and gathering evidence - particularly the ample video surveillance footage that was available in the area at the time. Instead, Yawger's efforts, and those of the detectives who worked the case with him, were focused on fabricating evidence that would allow Vanecko to avoid any culpability for his crime," Koschman says in the complaint.
She claims Yawger suppressed evidence that implicated Vanecko, which evidence was uncovered during an investigation years later conducted by a court-appointed special prosecutor.
"In furtherance of the cover-up, defendant Yawger lied directly to plaintiff in a face-to-face meeting with plaintiff in late May 2004. At the meeting, Yawger directly communicated the false and fabricated version of events to plaintiff, falsely telling her that all witnesses had told the CPD that her son was the aggressor during the incident. He further stated that the only person who could be charged was her son; that she was opposed by powerful forces; and that any attempt to litigate would be futile. These false statements not only caused plaintiff severe emotional distress, but were made to dissuade plaintiff from pursuing civil litigation against Vanecko," the mother claims.
She claims that Yawger submitted fabricated witness statements in his November 2004 report, indicating that Koschman was the aggressor and that Vanecko had acted in self-defense.
No further investigation was made until the Chicago Sun-Times made a request for the Police Department's files on Koschman's death in 2011.
"Purportedly astonished to learn that this 2004 investigation was classified as 'open,' then-CPD superintendent defendant Jody Weis told his chief of staff, Michael Masters, to get the case resolved," but the department hand-selected officers to work on the case who could be trusted to protect Vanecko and the reputations of other police officers, including Yawger, the complaint states.
Koschman claims that "virtually from the moment the CPD received the FOIA request from the Sun-Times on January 4, the office of Mayor Daley was closely involved in the case. CPD personnel engaged in regular communication with Mayor's office, repeatedly assuring personnel there that the investigation would be closed quickly and that no charges would be filed against Vanecko."
After ensuring that the files contained no information that incriminated Vanecko, the Police Department turned over the doctored file to the Sun-Times and closed the case in March 2011, Koschman says.
But the court appointed Special Prosecutor Dan Webb to investigate the matter at her request.
The special prosecutor "caused Vanecko to be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. The indictment alleged that Vanecko, 'without lawful justification,' had recklessly used physical force to cause David Koschman's death," the mother says.
Vanecko pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in January this year. His plea agreement stipulated that he will spend 60 days in jail, 30 months on probation, pay $20,000 restitution, and apologize to Koschman.
The special prosecutor's report, unsealed a few days later, "was an official repudiation of the CPD/SAO [state attorney's office] investigation and exoneration of Vanecko," the complaint states.
Koschman seeks damages for deprivation of right of access to the courts, wrongful death, emotional distress and conspiracy.
She is represented by Locke Bowman with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law.
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