Chicago cop Marco Proano found guilty of excessive force in 2013 shooting

The government contends Officer Marco Proano "drew first, shot next and justified later" as he emptied his gun into a carload of teenagers. The criminal civil-rights case went to the jury Monday afternoon.

Joel Levin

Jeanne Kuang / Injustice Watch

Joel Levin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, speaks at a press conference Monday.

[UPDATE 8/28, 5:33 pm: After less than four hours of deliberation, a federal jury found Chicago police officer Marco Proano guilty of two counts of civil rights violations for using excessive force when he fired 16 shots into a car filled with teenagers in December 2013.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Joel Levin said during a press conference that the vast majority of Chicago Police Department employees do their jobs with respect for the constitutional rights of citizens.

“Marco Proano intentionally violated the constitutional rights of the people in that car and he will be held accountable for that when he is sentenced,” Levin said.

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Proano, who is not currently in custody, left the courthouse alone after the guilty verdict. A hearing scheduled for next week will determine whether Proano should be detained prior to his sentencing.]

Federal prosecutors on Monday contended Proano intentionally fired the shots into the car, knowing they posed little danger to police or others in the area.

“He made a concerted series of decisions to keep firing at that Toyota even as any threat evaporated,” assistant U.S. attorney Georgia Alexakis told the U.S. District Court jury during closing arguments on charges that Proano violated federal civil rights laws in the incident, recorded in police dash-cam footage.

The trial marks the first time in 15 years a Chicago police officer has faced federal criminal charges in connection with an on-duty shooting incident. The officer was indicted last year as the U.S. Justice Department examined the department’s practices, an investigation launched after the video of Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald was made public.

Proano’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, urged the jury not to convict his client, contending the shooting was reasonable and justified. He portrayed a chaotic scene in a high-crime neighborhood in which the teenagers could have hurt others if they escaped the police in the car they were driving. He also contended the prosecution did not provide any less lethal alternatives to firing on the car.

“What was [Proano] supposed to do?” asked Herbert.

The jury, which heard two days of testimony last week, began deliberating Monday afternoon after receiving instructions from U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erika Csicsila, co-counsel with Alexakis, cited testimony that Chicago police recruits, when Proano joined the force in 2006, were trained not to fire into crowds and not to use deadly force except as a last-resort measure when a life is threatened.

“The rules don’t change just because you’re on the South Side of Chicago,” Csicsila said.

The shooting occurred in the early evening at West 95th Street and South LaSalle Street, a few days before Christmas in 2013. Proano and his partner responded to Officer Kenneth Flaherty’s call for help in stopping the teenagers, who police said were driving a stolen car.

The video footage played at trial showed Proano pull up, with Flaherty’s car in between Proano’s car and the teenagers’ car. In the video, Proano has his gun out, held sideways and aimed at the teenagers’ car, seconds after he gets outside. As the teenagers back the car away from the police, Proano begins shooting and continues when the car then rolls forward into a light pole, emptying his gun.

David Hemmans was hit in the thigh and ankle. Last week, Delquantis Bates, who was shot in the shoulder and suffered a graze wound to his head, testified that he put his hands on the gas pedal to reverse the car and then jumped in the backseat to duck from the gunfire.

Herbert argued on Monday that Proano acted reasonably given the circumstances, saying the officer believed he and any civilians in the neighborhood would be in danger if the teenagers escaped and sped away.

“He didn’t know exactly what was going on but he knew things were bad,” Herbert said of his client’s mindset at the time of the shooting.

In rebuttal, Alexakis said Herbert’s argument is contradicted by the evidence. In a police report and in a statement made to a detective after the shooting, Proano said he shot to stop the car because one of the teenagers, Kevon Brown, was in danger and being dragged by the car. Both prosecutors contended Proano “drew first, shot next and justified later.”

The government and defense also disputed the length of the shooting. Herbert said firing 16 shots continuously could take a maximum of four seconds, bolstering his claim that the shooting was a split-second decision Proano made in a tense moment. The video appears to show Proano shooting for nine seconds, even advancing on the car as it backed away.