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Why did Dexter Reed traffic stop, shootout with Chicago Police escalate so rapidly?

Experts wonder how traffic stop involving Dexter Reed led to shootout with CPD so fast
Experts wonder how traffic stop involving Dexter Reed led to shootout with CPD so fast 03:01

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Civilian Office of Police Accountability and an independent expert both said Monday that it appears 26-year-old Dexter Reed fired first in a shootout last month that ultimately left him dead and also left a Chicago Police officer injured.

Bodycam video of the incident was released Tuesday, with more than 30 videos released. Before it was over, one of Reed's shots struck an officer.

Meanwhile, there are other questions — like how and why a team of five tactical officers zeroed in on Reed in the first place.

The shootout occurred on March 21 in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand Street, toward the southern end of the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

The shootout followed a traffic stop when five plainclothes CPD tactical unit officers in an unmarked squad car pulled Reed over. In body camera footage, officers tell Reed to roll down his window and ask him, "What are you doing?"

After rolling down his window, Reed started rolling it up, prompting officers to repeatedly tell him, "Don't roll the window up," and, "Unlock the doors."

Within seconds of the beginning, the conflict escalates frantically and deadly.

COPA doubted Reed was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt

A COPA news release issued Tuesday indicated that a seatbelt violation was why Reed was pulled over.

However, early Tuesday evening, CBS 2 obtained a letter issued by Kersten to police Supt. Larry Snelling – in which she wrote that "the available evidence calls into question the veracity" of the claim that a seat belt violation was the initial reason for pulling over Reed.

"Specifically, COPA is uncertain how the officers could have seen this seat belt violation given their location relative to [the] vehicle and the dark tints on vehicle windows," Kersten wrote in the letter on April 1. "This evidence raises serious concerns about the validity of the traffic stop that led to the officers' encounter [Reed]."

In line with the bodycam video, the letter does say the officers ordered Reed to lower his windows and unlock his doors, after which he fired toward the passenger side of his vehicle and shot one of the officers.

"During the initial volley of gunfire, [Reed] remained in his vehicle and eventually pulled forward, colliding with a parked car in front of him. Then exited his vehicle on the driver's side, leaving his firearm on the front passenger seat, and began to flee around the rear of the vehicle," Kersten wrote. "All four officers again discharged their firearms at [Reed], striking him multiple times. [Reed] then fell to the ground and the gunfire stopped for a moment. As he lay motionless on the ground, [one of the officers] fired at an additional three times."

Kersten wrote that the evidence showed all four officers kept firing their guns after Reed got out of the car – by which point he was unarmed.

"Additionally, the officers fired approximately 96 shots, raising serious questions about the proportionality of their use of deadly force," Kersten wrote. "[One officer], in particular, fired at least 50 times, including the three final shots, while was lying motionless on the ground."

The letter questioned the officers' assessment of "what is a necessary, reasonable, and proportional use of deadly force."

"Based upon the serious nature of the allegations, including the questionable basis of the traffic stop and proportionality of the shooting, COPA recommends that CPD reevaluate the officers' current assignments and relieve them of police powers pending the resolution of COPA's investigation," Kersten wrote in the letter.

COPA letter questions reasoning for why Chicago Police officers pulled over Dexter Reed 01:45

At a minimum, Snelling was advised to suspend one officer who fired at least 50 shots all himself — including the three final shots when Reed was lying motionless on the ground.

The letter added that COPA had another investigation open for a traffic stop involving the same five officers, which occurred less than a month earlier and was also purported to be based on a seat belt violation.

Earlier Tuesday, Kersten spoke at a news conference with Mayor Brandon Johnson, and she later spoke at a City Club of Chicago luncheon. She did not discuss what she wrote in the letter to Snelling.

Kersten did reiterate Tuesday that COPA believes Reed fired first.

She did not point to a specific video, portion of the video, or other element released Tuesday that indicates why investigators believe Reed fired first. She said that it was based only on all of the video footage and ballistic evidence.

"COPA's initial review, making that determination, is based off of the available evidence we have now – which is really video evidence and some audio that is captured on the video, as well as some additional ballistics evidence that's been collected from the scene," Kersten said. "But we will, of course be awaiting the Illinois state police's testing of that evidence for further confirmation of additional aspects of ballistic evidence."

Mayor Brandon Johnson said he met with Reed's family after the shooting and offered his condolences for his death.

"As mayor and as a father raising a family, including two Black boys on the West Side of Chicago, I am personally devastated to see yet another young Black man lose his life during an interaction with the police," Johnson said. "Our heart breaks for the family of Dexter Reed. They are grieving the loss of a son, a brother, and a nephew."

Professor David Harris of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law said if Reed shot first - as COPA says he did - the officers were justified in returning fire. But some big questions remain.

Harris said that among them is whether the officers explained to Reed why they were surrounding his car.

"That is a missing piece. You would expect — the car is pulled over, 'Sir, I stopped you for X,'" Harris said, "and I didn't hear that."

What was heard in the bodycam videos was a barrage of gunfire as the suspect off in the distance appeared to lie lifeless on the ground. Reed's weapon, COPA said, was later found inside the vehicle.

"Once that firing starts and the adrenaline pumps, police will often continue firing until they get a very clear command to stop," Harris said.

In a statement, COPA said it appeared after "Mr. Reed did not comply" with commands, "officers pointed their firearms," COPA also wrote that "Mr. Reed fired first."

"If you fire at police, you should expect return fire," said Harris. "There's just no other way of looking at it."

Former Chicago Police First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio also said it is important that accounts say Reed did not comply with verbal directions and then fired at officers.

"They repeatedly gave verbal directions to Mr. Reed to show his hands, get out of the car, roll his windows down - and he opened fire," Riccio said.

Riccio said whether and how police told Reed why they were pulling him over is also a critical question.

"One of the things that are going to have to come out in the investigation," Riccio said. "These incidents occur very quickly. I think the whole span of this may be a couple minutes."

Meanwhile, there is the question of whether police tactical teams routinely conduct traffic stops. COPA said that is a question for the Police Department - but the oversight agency is looking into the issue and what the tactical unit's task was that day exactly.

CBS 2 asked Riccio whether tactical units – which typically respond rapidly to crime hotspots and serious crimes in progress, such as an officer down – usually perform traffic stops like the one involved in this case.

"Obviously, something attracted them to him, and the tactical teams are really the guys who work in the districts, and go out, and really look for the hardcore bad guys; the guys with the guns," Riccio said. "We know Mr. Reed was carrying a gun unlawfully in his vehicle – and, you know, what was his intention?"

COPA added that the officers did not know anything about Reed's history when they pulled him over.

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