For the first time in decades, a Chicago police officer has been indicted on federal civil rights charges for shooting a civilian.
Officer Marco Proano, 41, was charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law for using unreasonable force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Friday. In December 2013, Proano shot 16 times into a car of six unarmed black teens, injuring two of them. The shooting was captured on dashboard camera video, which was first released by The Chicago Reporter last June.
The video, which was provided to the Reporter by retired Cook County judge Andrew Berman, shows Proano responding to a scene at 95th and LaSalle streets, after another squad car had pulled over the teens who were on a joy ride. In the video, Proano jumps out of his squad car holding his service revolver sideways—“like a gangster,” Berman said at the time.
Then, as the car begins to reverse away from him, Proano fires his weapon into the car 16 times, until the car comes to a rest against a light pole.
Timothy Fiscella, an attorney who represented three of the teens in their civil lawsuit against Proano, his partner and the city, which settled the case for $360,000, said the video definitely helped in keeping this case from being forgotten.
“I think it always helps to have the video,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we have to have working videos, we have to have working body cams. The cameras can’t malfunction.”
He said his clients were satisfied by the federal charges, but that the indictment won’t reverse the damage Proano caused.
“Certainly it’s not going to undo what happened, it’s not going to undo the bullet holes, but it’s something,” he said. “I think there’s some relief (from my clients) that officers are going to be held responsible for criminal acts just like every citizen in this city and county should be.”
The Reporter released the video of Proano five months before the court-ordered release of the much more widely viewed dashcam video of another Chicago police officer shooting 16 times at another black teenager. The Laquan McDonald video led to days of protests, the ousting of the police superintendent, the first murder charges against an on-duty Chicago police officer in 35 years and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into patterns and practices of misconduct by police.
Unlike in the McDonald case, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez decided not to pursue state criminal charges against Proano. That makes the federal charges all the more significant as forces inside and outside the city are focused on efforts to reform policing and improve police accountability in Chicago.
In a statement announcing the indictment, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary T. Fardon emphasized the importance of federal charges and hinted that there may be more to come.
“Our Office will continue to independently and vigorously pursue civil rights prosecutions to hold officers accountable and strengthen trust in the police,” he said.
The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates all officer-involved shootings, finished its investigation of Proano in mid-August and sustained at least some of the allegations against him, said spokeswoman Mia Sissac. She wouldn’t say which findings were sustained or what discipline the agency recommended to police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who has 60 more days to decide whether to agree with the discipline and file charges with the police board.
A police department spokesman said IPRA’s recommendations are still undergoing legal review within the department. Proano was placed on desk duty after the shooting and was relieved of his police powers last December, two years after the shooting, the spokesman said.
“The charges announced today are serious and the Chicago Police Department will have zero tolerance for proven misconduct,” the department wrote in an email.
But the December 2013 shooting was not Proano’s first. Two-and-a-half years earlier, Proano shot and killed Niko Husband in a scuffle outside a party. IPRA found Proano’s actions in that case to be within department policy.
Proano will appear in federal court next Thursday, when he will be arraigned before a magistrate judge at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Depending on the outcome of the arraignment, Proano could be suspended without pay.
Berman, who released the video to the Reporter, said he never expected a federal indictment, but simply wanted to make sure that Proano was off the street and unable to recklessly shoot anyone else.
“I was hoping to draw attention to this officer’s behavior so that he was not allowed to be quote-unquote enforcing the law with a deadly weapon in his hands,” he said. “Whether he broke the law in any way, that’s for the courts to determine.”