A Chicago police officer was sentenced to five years in prison Monday for using excessive force on two black 15-year-olds he shot and wounded in 2013.
Prosecutors argued for Marco Proano, an 11-year Chicago Police Department veteran, to get eight years in prison. Proano’s attorney asked for probation and a fine, calling the officer a scapegoat for police misconduct that’s been stirring in Chicago.
The incident was Proano’s third shooting as a Chicago officer. City investigators cleared Proano in both prior shootings, including one that was fatal.
WBEZ criminal justice reporter Chip Mitchell explains the case and what U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman’s sentencing could mean for Chicago police reform.
On what happened during the shooting
Chip Mitchell: In this case, Proano fired 16 rounds at a stolen car full of teenagers as it backed away from him and then slowly rolled across the street in December 2013. The incident was recorded by a police dashcam.
Proano claimed he shot at the moving vehicle to protect a passenger hanging out a window. But prosecutors said spraying the car with bullets — like Proano did — could have killed all the teenagers in the car.
In August, a jury convicted Proano of two felony civil rights counts. He’s the first Chicago officer in years, maybe decades, to be convicted in federal court of criminal charges for an on-duty shooting. (The U.S. attorney’s office says it can’t find any cases like that since at least the 1980s.)
On what sort of reverberations this case could have
Mitchell: As Proano’s attorney pointed out on Monday, police officers paying attention to this case now might have an awfully good reason to follow a policy against shooting at fleeing vehicles under most circumstances.
On the connection to Jason Van Dyke
Mitchell: It’s rare for a Chicago officer to face any criminal charges for an on-duty shooting, even in state court. One of the only other cases is Jason Van Dyke, who’s facing murder charges in the Laquan McDonald shooting.
Proano’s attorney, Dan Herbert, is also Van Dyke’s attorney. In the Van Dyke case, Herbert has been saying for months that he plans to ask for a venue change, which means he’s considering a jury trial or at least wanting to keep that option open. That would be unusual because officers facing serious charges would usually rather have the judge determine guilt or innocence. So they usually opt for a bench trial.
In Proano’s trial, the jury deliberated for less than four hours before coming back with guilty verdicts on both counts. That jury was mostly white and Latino and had only one African-American. So Herbert now has to be thinking about how the video of Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald would appear to a jury.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.