A Chicago police officer has been indicted on federal civil rights charges for shooting into a car full of teenagers, marking the first time federal authorities have brought charges against one of the city’s officers for a shooting in the last 15 years.
Officer Marco Proano, 41, was captured on video shooting repeatedly into the car as it backed away from him on the South Side in December 2013, wounding two teens inside.
In an indictment announced Friday, Proano was charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law alleging he used unreasonable force. He is free on his own recognizance and due to make his first appearance in federal court Thursday, court records show.
The incident was the second controversial shooting of Proano’s 10-year career with the department. In July 2011 he shot 19-year-old Niko Husband to death at close range. A Cook County jury found the shooting unjustified, awarding his mother $3.5 million in damages, but a judge overturned the verdict.
Proano’s indictment marks a rare move for federal authorities. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that Chicago police had shot 702 people — killing 215 — in the last 15 years, yet no officers had been charged by federal authorities in any of those cases.
The charges come amid continuing political upheaval in Chicago over police shootings and the rarity of city officials or prosecutors seeking to punish police for alleged abuses. Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues to roll out proposed changes to the Police Department and its oversight systems spurred by the political crisis that followed the release in late November of video of white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
The city’s police disciplinary authorities have long been reluctant to rule police unjustified in shootings, but since the scandal erupted, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority has ruled a spate of shootings unjustified. Indeed, on Friday, IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac said the agency had ruled Proano’s 2013 shooting unjustified.
IPRA’s recommendation has been forwarded to the Police Department, Sissac said. The department has yet to announce any proposed disciplinary action against Proano, who has been on paid desk duty since shortly after the December 2013 shooting. He is paid $81,588 a year, according to city payroll records.
Proano could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, Daniel Herbert, declined to comment.
The video of the shooting of the teens in 2013 was first aired last year by The Chicago Reporter after it said it obtained the footage from former Cook County Judge Andrew Berman, who heard a criminal case involving one of the teens. The publication said the judge, who retired before the story was published, called the officer’s actions the most disturbing he’d seen in his legal career.
The Tribune reported in June 2015 that the shooting was the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office.
According to a lawsuit filed by the mothers of three of the teens, several teenagers were riding in a car that was stopped by two officers near 95th and LaSalle streets when one passenger fled.
In footage taken by a camera in a squad car, Proano can be seen walking quickly toward the teens’ car with his gun pointed sideways at them in his left hand. He then backed away briefly as the car reversed away from the officer. Proano then raised his gun with both hands and opened fire, the video showed.
The suit alleged that Proano fired more than a dozen shots.
One teen was shot in the shoulder and grazed on his forehead and cheek, according to the lawsuit. Another teen was shot in his left hip and right heel. A third teen was taken to the ground by one of the officers, causing an injury to his right eye, the suit alleged.
According to a statement from the Police Department released at the time, the car’s driver ran off and someone else jumped in the driver’s seat and put the car in reverse. The officer then opened fire, the statement said.
Former FOP spokesman Pat Camden, meanwhile, said officers stopped the car because they thought it was stolen. He said the driver reversed toward officers who were approaching it and then drove forward, dragging the passenger in the back seat. An officer “worried about the safety of the individual trying to get out of the car” then opened fire, Camden said.
The city agreed to settle the lawsuit over the shooting for $360,000.
The mother of Niko Husband — the teen fatally shot by Proano –– also sued, and jurors in Cook County court found in 2015 that the officer had used unjustified force. The jury awarded her $3.5 million, but the judge negated the verdict because of a contradictory answer jurors gave on a written question. The judge’s ruling is being appealed.
That incident unfolded on a night in July 2011 as police responded to a call of an armed man and encountered dozens of people at an underground dance party near 80th Street and Ashland Avenue. Husband came out of the building, according to court records, and appeared to be struggling with a young woman.
Proano testified that he and two other police grabbed Husband by the arms and tried to free the girl. As they wrestled with him, Proano said, he felt a gun in Husband’s waistband. The officer said he tried to grab the weapon from Husband but was afraid it would go off.
After another officer tried unsuccessfully to deploy a Taser, Proano fired three times. A Police Department statement that night said Husband had reached for his gun and pointed it at the officers, prompting Proano to shoot Husband in fear of his life.
An autopsy report showed the first two shots came from about 2 feet away, but the third was a “contact” wound, indicating that Proano had pressed his gun directly against Husband’s chest. The trajectory of that bullet suggested that Husband was already on the ground when it was fired.
The young woman he was with before the shooting was a friend, and she testified that while she did yell, “Get off of me!” as he had his hands on her, she was actually talking to one of the officers.
The attorney representing Husband’s family, Donald Shapiro, argued at trial that the gun had been planted by officers. He said it had only one bullet in it, making it implausible that Husband was trying to aim it at three burly police officers who were wrestling with him.
Proano was not only cleared by IPRA but also awarded a department commendation for valor, records show.
Proano was the subject of nine complaints during a four-year period ending in mid-December 2014, police records show. He was never disciplined for any of the complaints, which included allegations of illegal searches and excessive force.