Questions swirl in the wake of Dexter Reed video release. We decided to try to get some answers

Chicago police officers surround Dexter Reed’s SUV moments before the shooting began. (COPA)

CHICAGO — Many questions have arisen since the city on Tuesday released Chicago police body camera footage and other evidence related to the “exchange of gunfire” that ended with 26-year-old Dexter Reed dead during a traffic stop last month.

Online, opinions run the gamut from Reed “deserved” it because he shot a cop to the police should be charged with murder. After seeing some of the same questions being raised repeatedly, we decided to try to get a few answers. Here’s what we learned.

Question: In a press statement accompanying the evidence release, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) said it believes Reed fired his gun first, striking an officer in the wrist, before the other four officers at the scene returned fire. But it’s hard to tell from the video where the first shots came from. How does COPA know Reed fired first?

Answer: Most likely by determining who did *not* shoot first. Video and audio from each of the officers’ body cameras indicate that gunfire began before each officer started firing. (The injured officer did not fire his weapon.) Since Reed was alone in his SUV, he is the only person at the scene who could be responsible for the first gunshots.

Question: The COPA press release says the police officers “returned fire approximately 96 times.” However, each officer filed an individual “tactical response report” (TRR) that included the number of shots they personally fired. According to those forms, the officers fired 79 shots, not 96. Who fired the other 17 shots?

Answer: To find out, we asked COPA. Here’s what their spokesperson said: “The TRRs are self-reported or based on the officers’ account and are often a reflection of the officers’ estimate following the incident. COPA was present for evidence collection and the breakdown of the officers’ weapons and used that information, in conjunction with the TRRs and the officer’s [body camera] recordings, to come to the total number of shots fired by CPD during this incident.”

Question: Why did COPA tell the public how many shots the police fired without mentioning how many shots Reed fired? Why didn’t they say how many shell casings they found in his car?

Answer: “We will not have a full accounting for this until the ballistic reports come back,” COPA’s spokesperson said. “We are only present for the breakdown of the officers’ weapon[s], which allowed us to provide an accounting of how many shots they fired. Providing information to the public about what evidence was recovered may be confusing without that full accounting from the ballistic reports with regard to Mr. Reed’s weapon. However, as stated in our press release, Mr. Reed did fire first.”

Question: Within hours of the videos being released, newsrooms began publishing a letter that COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten wrote to CPD Supt. Larry Snelling. In the letter, she questions the officers’ claim that they stopped Reed for a seatbelt violation, says one officer fired at least 50 rounds, and recommends that the four officers who fired shots should be stripped of police powers while the investigation proceeds. Who leaked the letter? Isn’t the leak evidence that someone is trying to portray the officers in a bad light?

Answer: According to COPA’s spokesperson, the media outlets received the letter because they asked for it via Freedom of Information requests.

“Consistent with our normal practice, we redacted Mr. Reed’s name as a member of the public but left in the officers’ names because they are public employees who were operating in their official capacity,” the spokesperson said.

Exactly how all of the news outlets became aware that the letter between Kersten and Snelling existed is not known.

Question: COPA is questioning the truthfulness of the officers’ claim that they stopped Reed for not wearing a seatbelt. The agency has indicated that Reed’s window tints were too dark for someone to be able to see his seatbelt. How did the officers conclude that he was not wearing a seatbelt?

Answer: The Sun-Times reported on Wednesday that COPA has not interviewed the officers involved in the shooting. If true, the agency does not know what the officers knew or how they came to believe Reed was not wearing a seatbelt.

The following video, a zoomed-in portion of footage released by COPA, shows how the traffic stop unfolded. In it, three cars enter the frame at the bottom right and stop at a red light: a sedan, followed by Reed’s white SUV, and, finally, another white SUV.

After the cars proceed through the light, the unmarked CPD unit enters the frame from the left side of the screen. The squad quickly turns in the direction of Reed’s car, pulls into the oncoming traffic lane, and brings Reed to a stop.

Many important questions are not answered by the video: Where was the CPD unit positioned before it entered the video frame? Was Reed’s window down? Did the officers see Reed elsewhere in the area and circle around to stop him? Why did they pull Reed over instead of the driver behind him or any of the other drivers in the area?

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About Tim Hecke 300 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com