Former Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis said Tuesday that the 2004 death of David Koschman — after a confrontation in the Rush Street nightclub area with a nephew of Mayor Richard Daley's — should be reinvestigated by an independent law enforcement agency.
The case was recently tossed into the palms of Illinois State Police by the Cook County state's attorney's office. But I don't see how any law enforcement agency — except Weis' old FBI — can clear this one up.
When a nephew of the boss of Chicago comes up in a police investigation, it is by nature a heater case, a political hot potato. And I don't think the politicians are done tossing this one back and forth.
"I think now that the best thing is to have an independent investigation and see what it shows," Weis told me during a wide-ranging interview about his three-year tenure as Chicago's top cop.
We sat for hours at Yolk on South Michigan Avenue, where he talked about what he was most proud of, and what troubled him, during his time running the police in this most political of cities.
He was proud of his police force and the historic drop in homicides in 2010, from 460 in 2009 to 435 a year later. He feels vindicated that he shifted police to high-crime areas and that he gave his officers equipment they needed, from assault rifles to Tasers.
Weis said he liked working for Daley because the mayor gave him the autonomy to do his job. Daley put Weis in command after a series of scandals rocked the department, from corruption to brutality. Weis lowered crime. And he did his job honorably.
And though Weis said that most officers supported his changes, he noted that some in the rank and file "whined."
"A very small percentage of our force are whiners. Unfortunately, they whine very loud," he said.
Yet what really frosted Weis was the criticism he received over the uniform issue — his decision to wear a police uniform to ceremonial functions though he was never a Chicago police officer.
What I'd never heard before is that before taking the job, Weis asked Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue about wearing the uniform.
"And he said, 'I don't think that's a problem,'" Weis said. "If he would have told me, 'Jody, I'm telling you, never wear a uniform,' I would have never worn a uniform. My whole purpose of wearing a uniform was out of respect. Basically he said, 'I think that would be fine.'"
After Weis began wearing dress blues, Donahue's union cadre began ripping the superintendent. It snowballed and stuck to Weis, who felt betrayed.
We called Donahue, and he confirmed that he gave his OK on the uniform. "He asked me my opinion before he started and I told him," Donahue said.
So when union members ripped Weis, why didn't you stand up and say you'd given him the OK?
"People are entitled to their opinions," Donahue said.
During my interview with Weis, we also talked about the Koschman case. That's the case that the Sun-Times has featured for the last few weeks.
On April 25, 2004, Koschman was celebrating his 21st birthday on Rush Street with friends. He was a little guy, 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds.
The mayor's nephew, Richard J. Vanecko, is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. There was a confrontation outside a bar, and there was either a punch or a push, but either way, the little guy fell, hit his head and was dead 11 days later.
Weis told me Tuesday that he ordered up a review of the Koschman case. He said his people found "nothing to prosecute."
But witnesses came forward with accounts different than those in the old police reports.
And Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who did not charge anyone in connection with Koschman's death, tossed the hot potato case over to state police last week.
There are other questions about how the police handled the case. Koschman was described by police as the aggressor, but his friends now reportedly say that's not true.
Because both sides in the confrontation had been drinking, I don't even know if a conviction is possible.
But what I want to know is that the Koschman investigation wasn't subject to political clout.
The problem with state police handling it now is that that lying to them won't land the liar in federal prison. And someone is lying in the Koschman case. Either some cops are lying or some witnesses are lying.
If you're caught lying to the FBI, you could be looking at from two to three years inside. And if you're a cop, you'll lose your police pension.
But Weis said he didn't know on what grounds the feds could become involved.
"Maybe as a civil rights matter? Maybe corruption? I don't know," he said.
Will anyone ever get to the bottom of this thing?
"There seems to be some question about witness statements. So you go interview them, compare what was written then to what is said now. You go through all the statements and see if they're similar or if there are discrepancies. Witnesses should take a polygraph.
"When you have witnesses coming forward saying there are discrepancies, those need to be evaluated, and the best thing would be an independent review."
Right now, that hot potato is burning the fingers of state police.
But for how long?Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun