CHICAGO – A federal jury in Chicago Monday convicted a city police officer of violating civil rights by using excessive force. The incident occurred on Dec. 22, 2013, a shooting that wounded two teenagers, reported NPR.
Marco Proano is the first Chicago police officer in at least 15 years to face federal criminal charges for a shooting while on-duty.
Proano and his partner were backing up other officers who had stopped a car for speeding. He began firing as the car goes into reverse to try to get away. But he continues shooting even after the vehicle hit a light pole.
According to the report, Proano fired 16 shots into the stolen car full of black teens.
After the shooting occurred, police discovered the vehicle was stolen. Consequently, three teens were later charged with auto theft.
The Associated Press reports:
“The prosecution relied on dashcam video of the incident, playing it several times for jurors during the weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
” ‘He pulled his gun out, held it to one side and aimed it at those kids to send a message and to show who was in charge,’ Erika Csicsila said. …
“Defense lawyer Daniel Herbert said his client was faced with a “split second” decision, influenced by the fact that he was in a high-crime area and that another officer had allegedly mentioned a gun; it was a BB gun that had fallen out of the car.”
Two occupants were wounded in the shooting. One individual was injured in the hip and heel and the other in the shoulder.
Closing Remarks by Defense
In his closing remarks, Proano’s attorney, Daniel Herbert accused prosecutors of armchair quarterbacking the shooting, making decisions from the safety of their office about what was a tense and dangerous situation.
“They made that decision (to charge Proano) sitting at their desks, eating popcorn and watching the video, not out on the street like Officer Proano,” Herbert said.
Federal Jury Convicts Officer
The federal jury deliberated for about four hours Monday. Following deliberations, they found Proano guilty of two felony counts of using excessive force in violation of the victims’ civil rights.
Dressed in a dark gray suit and glasses, the 11-year veteran kept his hands clasped in front of him on the defense table and showed no emotion as the verdict was announced in U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman’s hushed courtroom, reported the Chicago Tribune.
Feinerman scheduled sentencing for Nov. 20. But federal prosecutors indicated they will seek next week to detain Proano as a danger to the community. He faces up to 10 years in prison for each count.
Proano is the first Chicago cop in memory to be convicted in federal court of criminal charges stemming from an on-duty shooting. He also was the first officer to go to trial in any shooting case since the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video in November 2015 sparked heated protests, political turmoil and promises of systemic change from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Comments
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin acknowledged that without video evidence, it’s extremely difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer knew he was using excessive force when he opened fire.
“Historically, the lack of videos has made it difficult for us to meet our burden,” Levin said in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. “With the availability of more videos … it can, as it did in this case, supply the evidence we need to make the case.”
“Police have a very difficult job to do and the overwhelming majority of police officers are doing it right,” Levin said. “And they are respecting the constitutional rights of citizens. But when an officer violates those rights, we, federal prosecutors take it seriously, we will investigate it and we will prosecute it to the full extent of the law.”
Change in Policy
Shortly after this incident, Chicago Police Department amended their department policy regarding similar circumstances. According to chicagoreporter.com it prohibits “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”
Officer Leaves Courthouse Quietly
Proano left the courthouse without comment. He ignored questions shouted from reporters as he got into a waiting SUV. Herbert also declined to comment.
CPD Seeks to Terminate Officer
The Chicago Police Department seeks to fire Proano. He was placed on unpaid suspension after he was charged last September. In an emailed statement, Superintendent Eddie Johnson called Proano’s actions “intolerable.”
FOP Responds to Verdict
Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing rank-and-file officers, expressed disappointment at the verdict in a statement released Monday afternoon.
“The pressure on the police is making the job extremely difficult,” FOP President Kevin Graham said in the statement. “It seems that the criminal elements in our society are not accountable in our justice system, while the police face an intense scrutiny for every split-second decision they make.”
(Photo: Screenshot from dashcam video)