A retired Cook County judge and the lawyer for two teenagers shot in 2013 by a Chicago Police officer are both hailing a federal grand jury’s decision to indict him with civil-rights violations.
Marco Proano, 41, has been released on $10,000 bail, court records show. The indictment, returned on Thursday, doesn’t identify the alleged victims but accuses the officer of violating their civil rights on Dec. 22, 2013.
On that day, a police vehicle’s dashboard camera captured Proano firing his handgun into a car full of teenagers who were pulled over for speeding at La Salle and 95th on the South Side. Two of the teens were wounded.
The teenagers settled a lawsuit against the city for $360,000.
On Friday, retired Judge Andrew Berman, who released the video to the public after he saw it in 2015, said, “I was pleased to see the justice system as a whole did not just simply let this case drop off their collective radar screen because, fortunately, there was not a fatality involved.”
Attorney Timothy Fiscella, who represented the teens in their lawsuit, said: “Obviously, we are happy to hear the news. For my clients, it’s a relief that the officer’s conduct is going to be judged, that there is going to be some accountability for Officer Proano. I am happy the U.S. attorney’s office is getting aggressive about these cases.”
In May 2015, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the FBI was investigating the 2013 shootings by Proano. In a statement, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said Friday, “When a police officer uses unreasonable force, it has a harmful effect on not only the victims, but also the public, who lose faith and confidence in law enforcement.”
On Aug. 16, the Independent Police Review Authority sustained allegations of misconduct against Proano in the shootings. A source said the agency is asking the department to fire Proano. The police department is considering the recommendation.
Proano, who’s been on the department almost 10 years, did not return a call seeking comment.
It’s not the first time Proano has run into legal problems for a shooting.
In 2011, Proano fatally shot a 19-year-old man in 2011 after he and other officers scuffled with him outside a party on the South Side.
Proano received an award for valor from the department in connection with that shooting, and the Independent Police Review Authority found it was justified. Still, the family of the dead man, Niko Husband, sued Proano.
When the lawsuit went to trial, an attorney for the city told the jury that Proano was protecting another officer from Husband, who pulled a gun.
The jury found Proano used excessive force in firing at Husband and awarded his family $3.5 million, but the Cook County judge presiding over the case, Elizabeth Budzinski, overturned the jury’s verdict earlier this year. In a controversial ruling, the judge found that one question that the jurors answered in rendering their verdict was inconsistent with their overall findings.
In the lawsuit against Proano involving his 2013 shootings, the city had obtained a protective order to keep the video from being released to the public. But Berman, the judge, did just that.
Berman had presided over the juvenile court trial for one of the teenagers in the car. The teen was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, but the judge found that prosecutors didn’t prove that he knew the car was stolen and acquitted him.
It was Berman’s last trial before he retired as a judge. He was incensed by the video and decided to release it to the media in June 2015. He was not bound by the protective order the city entered in federal court.
“I didn’t think this officer, given his behavior, should be out there with a firearm since he was showing on that video that he wasn’t fit to do that job,” he told the Sun-Times in an interview Friday.
Fiscella, the lawyer for the teens in their lawsuit, said he thinks the conduct of the detectives who investigated whether the teens stole the car was also reprehensible.
One of the teens was taken from a hospital to a police station where he was interrogated while he was “bleeding profusely” from his shoulder, Fiscella said.
“These were kids out joyriding and certainly did not deserve to be executed for what they were doing,” he said, adding that the detectives told his client he could not go back to the hospital until he admitted his role in stealing the car.
At the time of that shooting, the police department had said in a statement that the teens were wounded after officers curbed a stolen car packed with joyriders.
The driver ran and a passenger moved into the driver’s seat and threw the car into reverse, the department said. Fearing for those in the car, the officer fired his weapon and struck two teens in the vehicle, the department said.
A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police said the driver backed up toward officers as a passenger tried to exit. Officers ordered the car to stop, but the car moved forward and dragged the passenger.
The officer fired on the car to protect the passenger, the spokesman said. A replica gun was found in the car, he said.
A long-standing policy barred Chicago Police officers from firing on vehicles in most situations.
In 2002, the police department created rules on firing at vehicles after an officer shot at a stolen car containing a toddler in the back seat. The officer said he feared the car would run over him.
Under that policy, “Firing at or into a moving vehicle is only authorized to prevent death or great bodily harm to the sworn member or another person. When confronted with an oncoming vehicle and that vehicle is the only force used against them, sworn members will move out of the vehicle’s path.”
Last year, the department’s policy was tightened up to bar officers from “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”