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Convicted cop: Feds’ use of ’16 shots’ wrongly invoked Laquan McDonald

Chicago Police Officer Marco Proano leaves the Dirksen Federal building on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, after a federal jury handed down a historic verdict, convicting a veteran Chicago police officer for using unreasonable force and wounding two teenagers in an on-duty shooting caught on video in December 2013. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

When the feds put Chicago Police Officer Marco Proano on trial last month for opening fire on a car full of teenagers, the shadow of another notorious police prosecution seemed to loom over the case.

After all, Proano shares a defense attorney with Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago Police officer facing murder charges in state court for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Now their attorney, Daniel Herbert, has pointed to another similarity in the two cases — and he claims it’s one reason Proano deserves a new trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Both Proano and Van Dyke fired their weapons 16 times during the incidents that landed them in court. However, the highly charged case involving Van Dyke led to street protests and the popular chant, “16 shots and a cover-up!” Meanwhile, prosecutors in the Proano case used the number repeatedly in front of jurors last month.

Herbert claims that prejudiced the jury against Proano.

“The McDonald incident and ’16 shots’ cannot be separated,” Herbert wrote in a court filing last week. “The prosecutors’ repeated reference to ’16 shots’ was a constant reminder to the jurors of the McDonald incident. It was a constant reminder of the dispassionate environment against Chicago police officers. It was a constant reminder that the jury must convict Proano.”

That jury would go on to deliberate less than four hours before finding Proano, 42, guilty of two civil rights violations. Proano fired at a stolen Toyota full of teenagers at 95th and La Salle in December 2013, wounding two of the teens. The car had suddenly begun to reverse with one teen hanging out of a window. Another teen had lunged forward from the back seat, thrown the car into reverse and pushed the gas pedal with his hands. No one was in the vehicle’s path.

Requests for a new trial are routine and rarely granted in federal court.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman to lock up Proano until his sentencing hearing, set for Nov. 20, during which the feds say they will recommend prison time. Both sides are expected back in Feinerman’s courtroom Wednesday.