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Governor calls for “full investigation” after bodycam footage released of shootout during traffic stop

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A still image from a video released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability shows a group of Chicago police officers surrounding a vehicle driven by Dexter Reed, 26, moments before an “exchange of gunfire” in which Reed was fatally shot on March 21, 2024, in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. (Chicago Police Department/TNS)


Sam Charles
Chicago Tribune
(TNS)

CHICAGO — A day after the release of body-worn camera footage that showed Chicago police officers firing 96 times at Dexter Reed last month after he apparently shot and wounded a tactical cop during a traffic stop, questions remained over the circumstances of Reed’s killing and what effect it could have on policing here.

How many of the officers’ bullets struck Reed? How many times did Reed shoot at police? And why did an officer appear to fire three final shots at Reed as he was lying motionless in the street?

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability has called for four officers involved in the shooting to be stripped of their police powers as the agency investigates. City and state leaders continued to weigh in, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker who called the shooting tragic Wednesday and called for patience.

“I think we’re going to have to see a full investigation,” Pritzker added. “And I hope that that will be done very quickly so that we can figure out what, if any, changes need to be made in the rules (of) the way that police are managing these situations and/or what exactly happened. Because it’s not clear to just the naked eye exactly what happened here, only I heard now that the person who was driving the car had a gun and was shooting first. We’ve seen all of the gunplay and gunfire that took place, but it’s very hard to make any judgments without some careful consideration.”

A group of tactical officers allegedly curbed Reed’s vehicle because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand in Humboldt Park shortly after 6 p.m. on March 21. Reed’s SUV had tinted windows, and video footage released Tuesday shows him disregarding officers’ repeated commands to roll them down.

After a few tense moments, Reed apparently shot the CPD officer who was standing on the passenger side of the SUV. Over the next 40 seconds, officers opened fire on Reed as he was in his vehicle and after he left it and fell to the pavement under its back bumper, killing him in a hail of bullets on a residential street.

Days after the shooting, COPA chief administrator Andrea Kersten wrote to CPD superintendent Larry Snelling recommending that the four officers who fired at Reed be stripped of their police powers while the investigation is pending.

“Specifically, COPA is uncertain how the officers could have seen this seat belt violation given their location relative to Reed’s vehicle and the dark tints on Reed’s vehicle windows. This evidence raises serious concerns about the validity of the traffic stop that led to the officers’ encounter with Reed,” Kersten wrote. “Based on the totality of the available evidence, COPA has grave concerns about the officers’ ability to assess what is a necessary, reasonable, and proportional use of deadly force.”

“If that bullet had hit him a few inches in a different direction, I would be here today talking about the loss of another Black man,” Johnson said about the CPD officer who was wounded.

According to Kersten’s letter, one of the officers in the Reed shooting — who is 23 years old — fired at least 50 shots, requiring him to reload his gun twice. Three of that officer’s shots came after Reed could be seen lying motionless. Two other officers also reloaded their weapons during the shooting.

YouTube video

COPA is now investigating the uses of force by the four officers — an inquiry that will likely take months, if not more than a year, to conclude.

Once finished, COPA will submit its findings and recommendations to Snelling. If COPA sustains an allegation of misconduct, the superintendent must then decide whether or not to lodge administrative charges against an officer. Those charges could potentially lead to a suspension or firing from CPD.

Outgoing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Monday also did not immediately dismiss the notion of potential criminal charges in the case, telling reporters at a press conference with Mayor Brandon Johnson that “our pursuit of justice will be relentless, guided by the facts, grounded in evidence and the law.”

The group of tactical officers involved in the Reed shooting already was facing scrutiny from police misconduct investigators.

Records show that an earlier investigation of the officers involved was launched on Feb. 26 — less than a month before Reed was shot — and it involved an allegation of unreasonable search and seizure that “was purportedly also based on a seat belt violation,” Kersten wrote. That alleged incident occurred in CPD beat 1132, located in the Harrison District (11th) on the city’s West Side.

During a public question-and-answer session at CPD headquarters Monday, Snelling was asked about the video’s then-imminent release and about the traffic stop.

Such basic violations, valid or otherwise, have long been studied and challenged in court cases about whether they can be a legal pretext for felony-level searches by police. Tactical police squads like the one involved in the Reed killing typically are not used for traffic patrol duty but for making significant arrests and taking guns off the street.

Snelling answered the question by saying CPD officers have conducted 46,000 fewer traffic stops in the first three months of 2024 compared to 2023. CPD routinely initiates more than a half million traffic stops each year.

“One of the things that we are addressing are those traffic stops,” Snelling said Monday. “I’ve addressed this issue, our officers are getting trained on it. Everything we do, we should be about reasonable, articulable suspicion of probable cause.”

The reduction of traffic stops coupled with a 9% year-to-date increase in felony arrests, Snelling added, “says that we’re going in the right direction and we’re focusing on the problems that we need to focus on in these communities.”

Cook County records show the officer who fired the 50 shots had written about one traffic violation per month on average in the last half of 2023, by name and badge number, though it was not clear when he started on a tactical team.

While Reed’s family and others questioned why plainclothes tactical officers would pull over a driver for a seat belt violation, records show that other officers involved in the shooting also have issued several traffic citations to motorists on the West Side in recent years.

Court records also show Reed faced a pending gun case at the time of his death. According to CPD, Reed was arrested near the United Center last July after someone called 911 to report a person with a gun at the Windy City Smokeout festival.

Officers allegedly found Reed in possession of a .357 revolver, and he was later charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and violation of the Firearm Owner’s Identification Card Act. His most recent court hearing was March 12, records show.

Reed’s family took part in a rally outside the Harrison District station Tuesday night. Reed’s younger brother was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery and obstructing a police officer after he allegedly hit an officer in the vest and “resisted arrest by stiffening his body and pulling his arms away” from officers.

The Reed shooting happened on the edge of two West Side wards belonging to Vice Mayor Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, and Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th. Both highlighted the sadness of the life lost and the need to wait for more information before reacting conclusions.

“I feel for all sides, because if I was in that situation, I would be afraid,” Burnett said. “We pray that the neighborhood stays level-headed about it. Let the process play out and don’t do anything stupid about it, because it’s going to hurt more people.”

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(Chicago Tribune’s Jake Sheridan, Jeremy Gorner and Caroline Kubzansky contributed.)

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