A federal jury has actually convicted a Chicago Police officer of misconduct! He might even go to prison.
Officer Marco Proano, 42, was convicted Monday (after just four hours of deliberation) of two felony counts of using excessive force in violation of civil rights.
The maximum federal penalty for his conviction is up to 10 years in prison. He will actually serve much less time, given his lack of a criminal record.
Despite the drumbeat of stories about horrible behavior by officers in Chicago, actual accountability has been hard to come by. The Chicago Tribune notes that this is, remarkably, the first time a Chicago police officer has been convicted of federal charges for his on-duty behavior as a cop.
In 2013, Proano was caught on a police dashboard camera opening fire on a stolen car just seconds after arriving at the scene of a crime. He continued shooting as the car attempted to back away from him. Two teens in the car were injured.
Prosecutors argued (and had training officers testify) that Proana violated training about when and how to use his weapon.
U.S. Attorney Joel Levin told the press yesterday after the conviction that the existence of the video played a major role in getting the conviction, and he wasn't sure they would have met the burden of proof without it.
Given that information, it's no wonder Chicago Police officers have a lengthy history of malfunctioning, unused, and even sabotaged dashcams. In the shooting of Laquan McDonald, several of the cop cars on the scene did not have working dashcams and did not capture Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald. The one video that was released did not have sound.
The murder case against Van Dyke still looms (his lawyer was also the lawyer who defended Proano).
A disappointing, but not surprising detail: Not even the rare federal conviction will force the local police union to consider that officers can or should be held accountable for this type of reckless on-the-job behavior. Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham complained, "It seems that the criminal elements in our society are not accountable in our justice system, while the police face an intense scrutiny for every split-second decision they make."
Yes, yes they do. Part of being a police professional involves realizing you shouldn't pull out your service weapon immediately upon arrival at a scene and shoot 16 times at a moving vehicle. As long as police unions provide cover for this behavior, even after an extremely rare conviction, how on earth can officers expect to build better relationships with their own communities?
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama investigated the Chicago Police Department and found a whole host of abuses. But now under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department is backing away from federal oversight of local police departments.
Today, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she was going to try to force the issue, filing a lawsuit to demand federal court oversight over the Chicago Police. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, she has convinced a previously reluctant Mayor Rahm Emanuel to work with her to ask the public for input on what a consent agreement to reform the police would look like. Read more here.