Cop who shot at teens is a criminal, not a scapegoat
“Mr. Proano was not maintaining the ‘thin blue line’ that separates us from anarchy and chaos and violence. He was bringing the chaos and violence.”
– U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman, sentencing Chicago police Officer Marco Proano to five years in prison
No, Marco Proano is not a scapegoat. No, he is not a victim of anti-police hysteria.
The 11-year police veteran was convicted of excessive force for firing 16 times into a car full of teenagers in December 2013. It took a jury less than four hours to reach a verdict after a weeklong trial.
Video of the shooting, captured on a police dashboard camera, shows Proano walking quickly toward a stolen Toyota, raising his gun and firing as the vehicle backs away. He continues to fire even after the car hits a light pole and stops. Two of the five teens inside the car were wounded. Jurors watched the video several times.
Defense attorney Daniel Herbert argued that Proano acted exactly as he’d been trained to do and was “sacrificed to the furor” that engulfed Chicago after the release of a different dashcam video in November 2015. That would be the video, released by court order, that shows Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at teenager Laquan McDonald.
It led to months of street protests, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and promises — still unfulfilled — to overhaul Chicago’s police department and its feeble disciplinary system.
Herbert also represents Van Dyke, who is charged with first-degree murder. Proano was charged nine months later.
On Monday, Herbert asked the judge to sentence Proano to probation. The indictment “resonated throughout the Chicago Police Department,” Herbert said, and sent a “loud and clear” message to cops that their behavior was being scrutinized closely. He hinted that it has already caused officers to do their jobs less aggressively for fear of being charged with a crime.
That got a rise out of both the judge and prosecutor. Feinerman said Proano’s actions were “extremely unjustified” and an insult to police officers who perform professionally. Assistant U.S. Attorney Georgia Alexakis said it was wrong to say “Give him a light sentence because otherwise police officers might not do their jobs.”
At trial, prosecutors showed that Proano had violated his training, left and right. Officers are taught not to fire into a crowd, not to fire at a target they can’t clearly see, not to keep firing after a threat is eliminated. Jurors didn’t buy the argument that Proano fired at the car to protect one of the teens, who was hanging out the window of the moving car.
If Proano feels singled out, it’s because Chicago has a long history of failing to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. But he was tried and convicted on the evidence.
“This was not a close call,” the judge said. “Mr. Proano engaged in criminal armed violence.”
Proano’s actions were way over the line. He’s not going to prison simply for doing his job.
The good cops — that’s almost all of them — know it.