Cop’s Trial Comes Down To Whether Shooting Was Reasonable

Marco Proano
A screen grab from a 2013 dashcam video shows Chicago police officer Marco Proano before he opens fire on a car. Courtesy
Marco Proano
A screen grab from a 2013 dashcam video shows Chicago police officer Marco Proano before he opens fire on a car. Courtesy

Cop’s Trial Comes Down To Whether Shooting Was Reasonable

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A jury is scheduled on Monday to hear closing arguments in the federal trial of a Chicago police officer who shot into a car full of African-American teenagers in 2013.

Officer Marco Proano opened fire on the car as it backed away from him. Within seconds he had shot 16 rounds, striking two of the teens inside the car, prosecutors said. Both survived.

This shooting was recorded on a police dashcam video posted by the Chicago Reporter two years ago. 

The charges, handed up by a grand jury about a year ago, allege that Proano’s use of force was unreasonable and violated constitutional rights of the two teens. This is the first time in years a Chicago cop has faced federal charges for an on-duty shooting.

WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell is covering the trial.

What does the video show and what led to those moments?

Chip Mitchell: Proano and his partner were on patrol in Gresham, a South Side police district, the evening of December 22, 2013. A call came over the police radio that other officers had boxed in a possibly stolen Toyota with several teenagers inside.

The video shows Proano within seconds of his arrival. He charges toward the Toyota and points his gun sideways in one hand. He backs up as the car moves away from him in reverse.

He then raises his gun with both hands and opens fire as he walks toward the car. He keeps shooting as the car rolls slowly across the street and hits a light pole.

How has Proano defended those actions?

Mitchell: He has claimed he fired at the car because he feared for his safety and for the safety of a passenger that the video shows has partly exited the vehicle.

His attorney, Dan Herbert, has argued that both Illinois law and police policy allowed officers to fire at moving vehicles. And he points out that officers can use deadly force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to an officer or someone else.

What sort of evidence has been presented at trial?

Mitchell: One of the officers who had stopped the Toyota testified he heard the sound of metal hitting the pavement and saw what seemed like a black revolver. He said it was only later they found out it was a BB gun.
Police photos showed nine bullet holes in the car. A hospital physician who treated the two wounded passengers said they were both 15 years old but did not know which of the 16 rounds caused the injuries.
A Police Academy sergeant testified that the city’s cops are not trained to open fire on anyone simply because they’re fleeing. But this trainer also said a car itself can be used as a deadly weapon.

What is coming up in the trial?

Mitchell: Closing arguments are scheduled to start Monday morning. Then the jury, which includes just one African-American, will begin its deliberation. Proano, if convicted, would be sentenced by the judge, Gary Feinerman. The officer could face up to 10 years in prison on each of two counts.

Had Proano been in trouble before?

Mitchell: By the time the shooting took place, the officer had been a subject of formal complaints about his conduct in at least 26 incidents since he joined the department in 2006, according to police data analyzed by WBEZ.

The city has also settled lawsuits claiming Proano misconduct during at least four incidents, according to data the Chicago Reporter compiled. Those payouts totaled $384,500.

Proano has also been involved in other police shootings. He fatally shot Niko Husband, 19, in 2011. A Cook County jury in 2015 found that shooting unjustified and awarded Husband’s mother $3.5 million in damages, but a judge overturned the verdict.

This interview has been edited to provide additional detail. Chip Mitchell reports on policing and gun violence out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1.