In June, the Chicago Reporter made public a video of police officer Marco Proano opening fire on a moving car containing six unarmed black teenagers at 95th and LaSalle streets. On July 29, the City Council approved a $360,000 settlement to three of the teens, two of whom were injured.
The source of the video was retired Cook County Judge Andrew Berman, who had presided over the criminal case of a teen acquitted of stealing the car the teens were riding in. Berman characterized “Proano’s actions as the most unsettling thing he had seen in his 18 years as a judge and 17 years as a public defender.”
The officer’s actions were “an outrageous use of deadly force,” Berman told reporter Jonah Newman, “He shouldn’t be allowed to be out there with a gun. He has shown callous disregard for human life.”
At the time, the Reporter believed that the incident, captured on the officer’s dashboard cam, was the only complaint against him in the past four years that involved a shooting. At least that’s what a search by Newman of CPD and court records indicated.
What Newman didn’t know when he broke the story was that Proano had shot and killed a 19-year-old black youth named Niko Husband almost two years earlier on July 17, 2011.
How could this fact, so directly relevant to the 2013 incident, have eluded a comprehensive FOIA request?
The answer has to do with the way the Independent Police Review Authority, the agency that investigates officer-involved shootings and excessive force complaints, organizes and presents information about its investigations.
Misconduct complaints filed by citizens and initiated within the department give rise to what are called Complaint Register—or CR—investigations. In the case of a police shooting, IPRA initiates an investigation, whether or not a formal complaint has been filed.
While every police shooting generates an investigation, a CR file on a shooting is only generated if someone makes a formal complaint.
In his FOIA request to the Chicago Police Department, Newman asked for “all disciplinary records, including but not limited to citizen complaints, internal reviews, disciplinary hearings and records of disciplinary action” for Proano and the other two officers on the scene.
Despite an effort to be exhaustive in framing the request, the CPD provided Newman only with Proano’s CR history. It didn’t interpret internal reviews to include shooting investigations. The logical conclusion was, the files that were released had Proano’s complete disciplinary history.
Putting aside the question of whether the information about the earlier shooting was deliberately withheld, this episode demonstrates the need for two immediate reforms.
First, information on officer-involved shooting investigations should be integrated into the CR file database, so that a request for an officer’s disciplinary history yields a response that includes shootings.
Second, IPRA should include the names of officers involved in shooting incidents in the summaries of closed investigations that it posts on its website. And it should do so retroactively for the 254 such summaries it has posted over the last eight years.
When IPRA adopted the policy of posting information about its investigations of police shootings in 2007, it was a significant advance in transparency. Prior to that, the CPD annual report had a section titled “Attacks Against the Police,” but contained no information about police shootings of civilians.
Today, however, IPRA’s practice of not including the names of officers involved in shootings in the information it releases is inconsistent with prevailing standards of transparency established by the 2014 Illinois Appellate Court decision in Kalven v. Chicago–a FOIA case in which I was the plaintiff–and adopted by the city in its policy for implementing that decision.
This is an easy fix. There are no legal or technical impediments to immediately adding the names to the investigation summaries. The Proano episode dramatizes what is at stake. Whether inadvertently or by design, essential public information was withheld from the public. IPRA should move immediately to make sure this never happens again.