A dashboard camera video obtained by The Chicago Reporter shows a police officer firing more than a dozen shots into a car filled with black teenagers in apparent violation of Chicago Police Department policy.
The video emerges at a time when iPhones, security cameras and other devices across the country are capturing images that often contradict police accounts of incidents in which officers are accused of misconduct.
In the video, recorded in December 2013, a Chicago police officer, identified in court documents as Marco Proano, shoots into a moving car of six unarmed teenagers at 95th and LaSalle streets on the city’s South Side. Two of the teenagers were shot – one in the shoulder and the other in the left hip and right heel, according to court documents.
Retired Cook County Judge Andrew Berman was so troubled by the video that he provided it to the Reporter. Berman was the judge in a criminal case against one of the teenagers. He described Proano’s actions as the most unsettling thing he’d seen in his 18 years as a judge and 17 years as a public defender.
“I’ve seen lots of gruesome, grisly crimes,” he said. “But this is disturbing on a whole different level.”
This isn’t the first time Proano has been accused of using excessive force, but it is the only complaint against him in the past four years that involved a shooting, according to CPD and court records. Proano was cleared in six previous complaints filed against him between 2011 and 2015, one of which involved excessive force.
The video is at the center of a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the teens against the city and three police officers, which was settled in March. The City Council still must approve the $360,000 payout, which is expected in coming weeks. While it is a relatively small sum compared to some settlements to people who were killed by Chicago police officers, it is still more money than almost 90 percent of police misconduct payments by the city last year.
City lawyers successfully convinced a federal judge to put the video under a protective order, which prevented parties to the lawsuit from releasing it publicly. Neither Judge Berman nor the Reporter are legally bound by the order.
The Reporter’s calls to Proano were not returned and his lawyer declined to comment. Proano admitted in a federal court filing that he was the police officer who opened fire on the car filled with teenagers.
The city’s Independent Police Review Authority, known as IPRA, has not completed its investigation of the incident 18 months later. FBI officials would neither confirm nor deny a Chicago Sun-Times report that the agency is investigating the shooting.
Proano has been assigned to desk duty, according to the police department, but he has not been disciplined and remains on the force.
After the shooting, police discovered that the car the teenagers were driving was stolen. Three teens were charged. Their lawyers declined to comment on the charges or the proposed settlement of the federal lawsuit.
Berman heard one of the cases on his last day before retiring, and that’s when he saw the video.
“My first reaction was, if those are white kids in the car, there’s no way they [would] shoot,” he said.
Of the 50 victims of police shootings in Chicago last year, 78 percent were black, according to IPRA statistics.
“You don’t start firing into a car full of unarmed people,” Berman said. “You just don’t do that.”
Chicago Police Department policy, updated in February, prohibits “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”
Asked to view the video and offer his perspective, Jerry Staton, a retired detective who spent 25 years with the Austin (Tex.) Police Department said: “I see nothing in this video that would justify him shooting at this car. Having said that, it’s possible he knew something that I don’t know.”
Berman found the teenager in his courtroom not guilty of possessing a stolen motor vehicle. He said the State’s Attorney failed to prove that the teen knew the car was stolen, and his verdict would have been the same even if no shots had been fired.
But he said he hopes the video will put a spotlight on Proano’s actions and hold the officer accountable for what he called an “outrageous overuse of deadly force.”
“He shouldn’t be allowed to be out there with a gun,” Berman said. “He has shown callous disregard for human life.”
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