Dexter Reed shot 13 times by Chicago police officers, autopsy finds

Dexter Reed was shot 13 times by Chicago police officers during a fatal March traffic stop that left one of the officers shot in the wrist, authorities found.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office released Reed’s autopsy and toxicological reports Thursday, five weeks after he was fatally shot in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability said four officers fired a total of 96 shots during the 41 seconds of gunfire.

The medical examiner’s office found Reed, 26, was shot in his chest, shoulder, back, legs and buttocks. A toxicological examination found THC in Reed’s system at the time of his death.

“The results of today’s autopsy demonstrate that these officers used excessive and unreasonable force,” Reed family attorney Andrew M. Stroth said Thursday. “Dexter didn’t have a chance.”

The records’ public release came a day after Reed’s family announced a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the five officers who were involved in the traffic stop and shooting. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability said Reed shot an officer in the wrist before the other four opened fire.

Police body-worn camera footage, released by COPA earlier this month, showed one officer firing three more rounds at Reed as he was motionless in the street. A CPD source said 11 spent shell casings were found inside Reed’s SUV.

In the month since the shooting, Reed’s death has spurred activists’ calls for the CPD to cease its use of plainclothes tactical officers and to reexamine its policies on traffic stops. The shooting has also laid bare a rift between leaders of CPD and COPA.

Five CPD tactical officers assigned to the Harrison District (11th) curbed Reed’s SUV in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand Street, allegedly after he was seen not wearing a seat belt.

The footage shows the officers exit an unmarked police vehicle, draw their weapons and repeatedly order Reed to roll down his SUV’s tinted windows. Reed initially complied and rolled down his window, but appeared to disregard the officers’ commands to roll down the window on the passenger side.

Moments later, Reed appeared to shoot the officer standing on the SUV’s passenger side. The other four officers then opened fire, shooting dozens of rounds at Reed, who exited the vehicle before falling to the pavement. One officer fired three more shots at Reed as he was lying motionless in the street.

That officer — just 23 years old — fired at least 50 times during the 41 seconds of gunfire. He was one of three officers who reloaded their weapons, according to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Along with video footage, COPA released copies of reports filled out by the four officers who fired their weapons. In those reports, the four said they fired a total of 79 rounds, less than the 96 initially reported last week.

Sharon Fairley, a professor from practice at the University of Chicago Law School and former chief administrator of COPA, said each of the four officers who fired their guns will be required to explain why they expended each round they fired.

“The idea here is that an officer can’t just discharge a firearm just because the colleague next to him or 10 feet away from him is discharging,” Fairley said. “They have to be able to identify a threat and use force in response to a specific threat themselves. That’s what the policy says, that’s what the law requires.”

Days after the shooting, COPA Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten wrote to police Superintendent Larry Snelling recommending that the four officers who fired at Reed be stripped of their police powers during the ongoing investigation.

“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.

Snelling, at an unrelated news conference Friday, said the officers involved in the shooting still had not been interviewed by investigators and stressed that CPD is fully cooperating with COPA. The department’s officers have initiated nearly 50,000 fewer traffic stops in the first three and a half months of 2024 compared with 2023, while felony arrests are up 9%, Snelling added.

Historically, COPA investigations have taken 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 the Police Department.

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 seatbelt violation,” Kersten wrote in her letter to Snelling.