A federal grand jury indicted Chicago police officer Marco Proano on Friday for a 2013 incident in which he shot indiscriminately into a car full of six unarmed black teenagers, wounding two of them, charging that Proano deprived the victims of "the right to be free from unreasonable force by a police officer," enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. This marks the first time that federal officials have charged a Chicago police officer for a shooting in 15 years, despite more than 700 police shootings in that time, 215 of them fatal, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
This particular shooting was brought to the public's attention after a retired Cook County judge, Andrew Berman, released video of the shooting to the Chicago Reporter. “My first reaction was, if those are white kids in the car, there’s no way they [would] shoot,” Berman told the Reporter, saying that he released the video to hold Proano accountable for his “outrageous overuse of deadly force.”
The city of Chicago eventually settled a lawsuit three of the victims' mothers brought against the officers involved for $360,000, but Proano, who has had at least eight other misconduct complaints filed against him and has been named in at least three other misconduct lawsuits the city settled with his victims, has yet to face any punishment for the shooting beyond being relegated to desk duty and being relieved of his police powers in December—two years after the shooting.
The Independent Police Review Authority, the embattled agency that oversees most police misconduct investigations, told the Reporter that it had recently sustained some allegations against Proano, but refused to say what they are and no record of them appears on their website. The Police Department said its legal office was reviewing the recommendations made by IPRA, but would not say what they were.
A previous shooting by Proano, in which he killed 19-year-old Niko Husband outside of a dance, was the subject of a lengthy Chicago Reader look at one of the rare cases a civil lawsuit in a police shooting case makes it all the way to a trial. The jury found in favor of Husband's family, but the judge nullified the verdict on a legal technicality.
Outside of Chicago, federal officials have rarely filed civil rights charges in police shootings, declining to charge the officers who shot Jamar Clark in Minneapolis, Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, or Michael Brown in Ferguson. (A notable recent exception is the officer who shot Walter Scott in South Carolina.) A review by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that federal prosecutors decline to pursue criminal charges against law enforcement officers 96% of the time.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.