Suspended Chicago Police Sgt. Samuel Cirone and recently retired Lt. Denis Walsh (Chicago Sun-Times)
Tim Novak and Chris Fusco
Sgt. Samuel Cirone is fighting a one-year suspension from the Chicago Police Department over his role in the creation of a bogus police report that shielded former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew from criminal charges in the death of David Koschman.
Lt. Denis P. Walsh — who was once accused of sexually assaulting a gas station clerk in Michigan and ended up pleading guilty to lesser charges — admitted stashing Koschman case files at his Northwest Side bungalow. That blunder led him to retire in February rather than be fired.
Yet over the past three years, the police department repeatedly tapped Walsh and Cirone to lead one-day training courses for detectives on “interviews and interrogations,” “homicide/death investigations” and “police-involved shootings,” records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
And they kept being called on to teach detectives even after special prosecutor Dan K. Webb said he considered charging them with obstructing justice or official misconduct in the Koschman case. Webb ultimately decided he didn’t have enough evidence to convict them and left it to City Hall to discipline them.
Under the watch of former Supt. Garry McCarthy, Walsh and Cirone jointly taught 11 “pre-service” and “refresher training” classes at the police academy for detectives. The refresher classes were all for “lead homicide investigators.” Cirone also taught two additional classes by himself.
All but two of the classes were held while John Escalante headed the detective bureau, which oversaw the training sessions. Escalante is now the department’s second-in-command after serving as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s interim police superintendent following McCarthy’s Dec. 1 firing.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi had no explanation as to why Walsh and Cirone were allowed to teach while under investigation, other than to say, “Supervisors within the entire bureau of detectives rotated through as class presenters.”
Walsh and Cirone both carried clout in the police department. Each had received so-called merit promotions, based on recommendations from a higher-ranking official, rather than test scores. And both men’s fathers also were Chicago cops.
Walsh and Cirone got involved in the Koschman case in January 2011. That was after the Sun-Times asked to see files on Koschman’s killing, which had gone unsolved for nearly seven years.
Walsh told his commander he couldn’t find the original files — many of which turned up six months later.
Then-Supt. Jody Weis ordered a reinvestigation, and the case was assigned to detectives under Cirone’s supervision.
On Feb. 28, 2011, the Sun-Times published the first of dozens of stories about the police department’s handling of the case, which Cirone’s detectives closed the following day, wrongly asserting that Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko had punched Koschman in self-defense.
The Sun-Times investigation led to Webb’s appointment as special prosecutor and Vanecko’s indictment for involuntary manslaughter, guilty plea and 60-day jail term.
Webb also focused his investigation on the police officers and prosecutors who failed to charge Daley’s nephew.
During Webb’s investigation, Walsh and Cirone teamed up as “class presenters,” starting with a “pre-service” detective training session on Jan. 9, 2013 — about a month after Vanecko’s indictment.
Two months later, the Sun-Times published a story detailing Walsh’s 2004 arrest on a charge of criminal sexual conduct. He’d been accused of groping and licking a female gas station clerk near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an incident caught on security surveillance video.
Walsh could have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted of that felony charge. But the victim stopped cooperating with authorities, and Walsh ended up pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. He also was handed a 30-day suspension by then-Supt. Phil Cline.
Walsh and Cirone taught four classes together between October 2013 and Jan. 31, 2014 — the date Vanecko pleaded guilty, admitting he killed the 21-year-old Koschman.
They taught another five classes between February and June 2014 — all after Webb released a 162-page report on his investigation that cited Walsh four times as being involved with missing files from the Koschman case.
Webb’s report also detailed late-night messages that Cirone exchanged from a personal email account with his boss, then-deputy Chief of Detectives Constantine “Dean” Andrews. Those emails said Koschman yelled “F— you! I’ll kick your ass!” before “breaking away from his group of friends and aggressively going after Vanecko” in the early morning hours of April 25, 2004. That statement ended up verbatim in the final police report, approved by both Cirone and Andrews, who closed the case without charging Vanecko.
Webb found no evidence Koschman said that.
After Webb decided not to charge Walsh, Cirone, Andrews or anyone else from the police department involved in the 2004 and 2011 investigations of Koschman’s killing, McCarthy asked City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to determine whether any cops should be disciplined.
Ferguson’s investigation began in September 2014. At that point, Walsh and Cirone stopped teaching, according to the department.
“While Lt. Walsh and Sgt. Cirone were among the supervisors that initially rotated through this training, the bureau of detectives advises they voluntarily recused themselves as presenters during the inspector general’s investigation,” Guglielmi says.
But Walsh and Cirone did teach one more class, on March 27, 2015, as Ferguson was still investigating them, the records obtained by the Sun-Times show. It’s unclear why.
After finishing his investigation in December, Ferguson recommended that six cops be punished, including Cirone and Walsh.
In February, Escalante moved to fire Walsh, who decided to retire at 52 and begin collecting his pension.
Escalante also recommended a one-year suspension for Cirone, 47, who’s challenging that before the Chicago Police Board and remains on the payroll.
HEFTY EXIT PAYOUTS FOR KOSCHMAN COPS
City Hall’s inspector general urged that six cops involved in the 2011 reinvestigation of David Koschman’s death face departmental discipline. Four of them retired, avoiding punishment. The other two — Sgt. Samuel Cirone and Detective Nicholas Spanos — have been stripped of their police powers and are facing one-year suspensions but remain on the city payroll. A look at the payouts to the cops who retired:
Chief of detectives Constantine “Dean” Andrews, 51
Final salary: $185,364 a year
Final paycheck: $165,504 — including $133,336 for unused compensatory time off
Pension: $106,934 a year
Cmdr. Joseph P. Salemme, 56
Final salary: $162,684 a year
Final payout: $99,450 — including $89,387 for unused comp time
Pension: $117,704 a year
Lt. Denis P. Walsh, 53
Final salary: $125,190 a year
Final paycheck: $46,459 — including $20,813 in salary and $12,037 for unused comp time
Pension: $93,396 a year
Detective James G. Gilger, 58
Final salary: $100,884
Final paycheck: $45,925 — including $12,569 in salary, $10,000 for unused comp time and $9,700 for unused vacation pay