Officer Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Charges In 2013 Shooting

CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago police officer charged with violating the civil rights of two teenagers he shot in 2013 pleaded not guilty Thursday when he made his first appearance before a federal judge.

Officer Marco Proano appeared before U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse for his arraignment, six days after federal prosecutors announced his indictment. According to the Chicago Tribune, it’s the first time in 15 years that federal prosecutors have charged a Chicago police officer for a shooting.

Proano pleaded not guilty. During the hearing, defense attorney Daniel Herbert argued Proano would lose his income as a police officer if he is forced to surrender his weapon and Firearm Owners Identification card as prosecutors have requested. The judge agreed to continue the arraignment hearing on Monday so the two sides could work out a way for Proano to surrender his firearm without losing his pay.

If convicted in this case, Proano faces up to 10 years behind bars.

The charges stem from a December 2013 shooting caught on police dashboard camera. In the video, Proano is seen firing into a car full of teenagers who had been pulled over for speeding, when the driver threw the car into reverse and tried to flee the scene at 95th and LaSalle. Federal prosecutors said Proano fired 16 shots into the car with reckless disregard for the five teenagers inside.

Two of the teenagers were wounded in the shooting. The indictment against Proano doesn’t identify the victims, but accuses the officer of violating their civil rights.

Proano has been assigned to desk duty since shortly after the 2013 shooting. The Independent Police Review Authorty recommended he be fired.

At the time of the incident, the police department said 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.

Herbert said the dashcam video of the shooting looks bad until you know the facts.

“The person driving the vehicle, he climbed into the front seat, he’s laying on the floorboard, and he’s pushing the gas and brake pedals with his hands, with a person hanging outside of the vehicle,” he said.

Herbert said that’s a situation in which deadly force would be justified to prevent great bodily harm or death.

He suggested the political climate – in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting and other high-profile police shootings – played a role in the decision to charge him.

“Does the climate have an effect on whether or not a prosecutor decides to charge or not? Of course,” Herbert said.

He noted the police department changed the rules regarding shooting into a moving vehicle two years after the incident.

“They’re changing the rules way after the game has been finished. Marco Proano used deadly force in December of 2013. The Police Department has changed their policy as of February 2015 concerning shooting at moving vehicles,” he said.

However, even before the department changed its policy on shooting at moving vehicles in 2015, a long-standing policy prohibited Chicago police officers from shooting at moving vehicles in most situations.

In 2002, the department created new rules on firing at vehicles, after an officer shot at a stolen car carrying a toddler in the back seat, because 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 again revised its policy to prohibit officers from “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”

The two teens who were shot by Proano sued the city over the shooting, and later settled the case for $360,000.

Priscilla Price said when she saw the video of the shooting, she nearly lost it. That’s because Proano had shot and killed her son nearly two years earlier.

In 2011, 19-year-old Niko Husband was at a party on the 8000 block of South Ashland Avenue when police were called to the area. The family’s attorney, Don Shapiro, said Husband had his arms around his girlfriend, and when he failed to let her go, as ordered, officers stunned him with a Taser, and threw him to the ground.

“One of the officers dropped his Taser, somebody yelled ‘Gun,’ and Marco Proano rushed in and shot Niko three times in the chest and killed him,” Shapiro said.

At the time, police said Husband was reaching for a gun, which they recovered, but Shapiro has disputed that.

“There is no DNA linking him to the gun. There are no fingerprints linking him to the gun. It is an untraceable weapon,” he said.

Husband’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit almost two years before the 2013 shooting.

“We thought Proano was a loose cannon before finding out about this other incident — now we know he’s a loose cannon,” Shapiro says.

A Cook County jury awarded Husband’s family $3.5 million in their wrongful death lawsuit, but a judge threw out the jury’s award of damages last year, according to published reports. Although the jury had found Proano used unjustified force in killing Husband, in response to a question as part of their decision, indicated Proano had a reasonable belief that his life was in danger when he opened fire.

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