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April 5, 2011

April 5, 2011

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Published by: Chicago Sun-Times on Nov 18, 2012
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8 | CHICAGO SUN-TIMES | TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2011

MARK BROWN
markbrown@suntimes.com

No pension for firefighter turned firebug
n what at first blush would seem a victory for sanity, an Illinois Appellate Court has ruled that a Chicago firefighter convicted of engaging in arson in his off-duty hours is not eligible for his pension. I’m hedging on the sanity part only because the same court went out of its way to preserve the right of other firefighter-arsonists in Illinois to collect their pensions in the future. The ruling comes in the strange case of Jeffrey Boyle, a lieutenant in the Fire Department at the time of his arrest in 2005 for setting fires in Chicago and Park Ridge, including the Norwood Park fieldhouse and Immaculate Conception School. Boyle subsequently pleaded guilty to eight felony cases of arson and was sentenced to six years in prison. This was at the same time his better known brother, John “Quarters” Boyle, was pleading guilty and drawing a seven-year prison sentence for taking bribes from companies seeking to do business in the city’s Hired Truck program, which I always thought must have set some kind of record. After his release from prison in December 2007, Jeffrey Boyle applied for his pension and was turned down by the firemen’s retirement board. The board cited a provision in state law that calls for any firefighter to forfeit his pension if convicted of a felony “relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service as a fireman.” The surprise came when Boyle appealed, and Circuit Judge Leroy Martin Jr., son of the former police superintendent, decided in 2009 that Boyle’s lawyers were correct in arguing nobody had shown a “clear and specific connection” between his crime — setting fires — and his job — putting out fires. For most people, the connection appeared clear on its face, even if Boyle never set his fires while on duty and never used Fire Department equipment to help set them. But it’s apparently not as obvious under the law as it might seem to the rest of us. While overturning Martin’s decision and stripping Boyle of his pension, the Appellate Court left the door open to a scenario under which a firefighter could set arson fires and still be entitled to a public pension. “In rendering our decision, we do not mean to imply that any firefighter convicted of arson must forfeit his pension per se, simply by virtue of that conviction. This is not what the Legislature intended,” Justice Joy Cunningham wrote in the court’s order.

WHO KILLED DAVID KOSCHMAN? A WATCHDOGS INVESTIGATION

I

Common sense prevails in strange case of former Lt. Jeffrey Boyle

State Police flip, won’t probe Koschman death
BY TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO
Staff Reporters

“Breach of Boyle’s duty to protect the public by committing these acts of arson does not automatically trigger disqualification for a pension,” she continued. Instead, what tripped up Boyle were some of the specific methods he used in setting fires, such as igniting materials in Dumpsters and garbage cans that he had placed next to the building structures he intended to torch. In this manner, the fire would spread or “communicate,” as Boyle put it using fire lingo. Boyle testified in a hearing before the retirement board that he was aware these are methods commonly used by arsonists. Boyle’s lawyer had argued that the acts of arson for which he was convicted “could have been committed by literally anyone” — and indeed there was no particular level of sophistication from what I could see. Happily, though, the appellate justices saw enough of what they called a “nexus” between Boyle’s experience as a firefighter and his firesetting to save the taxpayers the aggravation of financing the retirement of an arsonist. It all comes down to that statutory language about being convicted of a felony “relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service” as a fireman. Some of you will recognize this as the same legal language in question in the fight over whether former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge should be allowed to keep his pension following his federal conviction for lying about police torture. The police retirement board ruled Burge could continue drawing his pension, a determination that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has since gone to court to overturn. It was not immediately clear what effect, if any, the Boyle ruling will have on the Burge pension case, although Burge supporters had previously cited Boyle getting his pension as one reason Burge was entitled to his. I’d argue there was a definite “nexus” between Burge’s work as a police detective and his lying under oath about police torture.

No reason given; Alvarez office ‘surprised, disappointed’

It all comes down to that statutory language about being convicted of a felony “relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service” as a fireman.

In an about-face, the Illinois State Police won’t investigate the 2004 homicide case that involved Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of Mayor Daley and White House Chief of Staff William Daley. The State Police had agreed to review the matter on March 25, acting on a request the day before from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who said she wanted an “independent” police agency to investigate the death of David Koschman and the way the Chicago Police Department handled the case. But, on Monday, State Police interim director Patrick Keen called Alvarez Chief of Staff Dan Kirk and said the State Police are “unwilling to accept the investigation,” Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said. “We are surprised and disappointed by their decision,” Daly said. “It’s unclear why they’ve changed course. The state’s attorney remains committed to an independent investigation of this case.” A State Police spokesman declined to comment Monday night. Alvarez called for the State Police to get involved because witnesses now say that detectives who originally investigated the case wrongly portrayed the 5-foot-5, 140-pound Koschman as the aggressor when he was punched by the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko during a drunken confrontation on Division Street on

David Koschman
April 25, 2004. She said her office can’t examine the police investigation because her staff has been involved from the start, determining in 2004 there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Vanecko. Days before Alvarez sought the State Police investigation, City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson had begun a separate probe of Koschman’s death and the way police handled it. The day after Alvarez asked the State Police to investigate, her chief deputy, Hiram Grau, was appointed State Police director, effective April 11. Grau had been a Chicago Police deputy superintendent who supervised detectives at the time Koschman died. The State Police said at that time that Grau would not participate in the Koschman probe because of his roles with Alvarez’s office and the Chicago Police. “While he was not personally involved in CPD’s investigation of the 2004 incident, out of an abundance of caution, Mr. Grau will be recusing himself.” The Chicago Police dropped its initial investigation shortly after Koschman’s death and then formally closed the case March 1, after a new review of the evidence. They concluded Vanecko acted in self-defense when he punched Koschman in the face and sent him reeling backward to the street, leading to a brain injury that proved fatal 11 days later.

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