Protesters appear at testy Chicago Police Board meeting to call for firing of officers involved in killing of Dexter Reed

Protesters appear at testy Chicago Police Board meeting to call for firing of officers involved in killing of Dexter Reed

At the Chicago Police Board’s monthly meeting Thursday night, anger was palpable.

One month after Dexter Reed was killed in a shootout with CPD officers in Humboldt Park, dozens of activists and protesters flocked to Chicago police headquarters, calling for the firing of the five officers involved in the shooting and for the department to end its use of plainclothes tactical units.

The meeting also offered a chance for members of the public to hear another, at times rancorous, back-and-forth between leaders of CPD and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Generational fault lines among attendees were made clear, too.

“Dexter Reed should be here today,” Grace Patino, treasurer of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression, told the board during the meeting’s lengthy public comment period.

“The officers involved in the execution of Dexter Reed must be immediately fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible of the law,” Patino added. “These death squads in Chicago, also known as ‘tact teams,’ need to be disbanded. We need an immediate end to pretextual traffic stops and Larry Snelling should be fired.”

COPA last week released several videos showing the March 21 shooting of Reed. The tense footage appears to show Reed — purportedly pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt — shooting an officer in the wrist before four other tactical officers opened fire, shooting nearly 100 rounds, killing the 26-year-old in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand Street.

Publicly, Superintendent Larry Snelling has been careful to not make any statements about the shooting other than to say that the Police Department is cooperating in COPA’s investigation. However, Snelling this week repeatedly criticized COPA’s chief administrator, Andrea Kersten, for her own statements to reporters about the status of COPA’s investigation and the agency’s process.

“Last week’s release of materials and my public comments pertaining to the fatal police shooting of Dexter Reed, in which an officer was also shot and wounded, have led to sharp criticisms,” Kersten told those in attendance Thursday night. “This criticism demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of COPA’s role and process, and smacks of hypocrisy.”

Kersten noted that COPA routinely provides preliminary information about police shootings in the days after they occur — a marked change from the pre-Laquan McDonald era when the Fraternal Order of Police would usually give media updates to such shootings.

“This is misleading at best,” Snelling said in response. “When you make statements and you put them out in the public, you’re framing the mind(s) of the people before the video is even released.”

“There is nothing wrong with transparency, transparency is of the utmost importance,” Snelling added. “But when information is leaked prior to releasing the video, when statements are made without all of the information, an investigation has to begin. And if we’re starting by putting it out in the public in a manner in which we framed it, and we expect the public to see it the way we want them to see it, it’s problematic. This is why I’ve made no statements about this shooting.”

At least 70 people attended Thursday’s meeting, far more than the dozen or so who typically show up. Several CPD higher-ups, including the department’s new chief of patrol and Snelling’s chief of staff, also attended.

Kyle Cooper, the board president, announced at the meeting’s start that the board would not take any action on pending disciplinary cases. The Fraternal Order of Police, Cooper said, will soon file an appeal to a recent order from a Cook County judge that could greatly impact the future of serious police misconduct cases in Chicago.

FOP President John Catanzara praised Cooper and the board for holding off on making any disciplinary decisions. But soon, over a chorus of boos and taunts from protesters, he turned his attention to Kersten, a frequent target of criticism by CPD’s most fervent supporters.

“It just goes to show the mindset here that you caused with your press conferences,” Catanzara said, pointing at Kersten. “And now it’s inciting people to have absolutely inaccurate statements and untruthful statements being said.”

“And thank God for Superintendent Snelling, who was part of a command channel review for many years now, who saw your progressively biased opinions,” Catanzara added.

Matt Brandon, a longtime South Shore resident and organizer with Operation Neighborhood Safety, was among the few who agreed with Snelling.

“Transparency is something that we all want, but we want it after the fact, not before the fact. Preliminary facts don’t always bear out,” Brandon said. “I think you do a disservice when you go out before everything has been investigated, and I think that creates the type of atmosphere we have here today. It was a tragedy that happened to Dexter, absolutely, but you need to wait until all the facts come out so the community has the facts.”

Statements from Brandon and others who regularly attend the board’s monthly meeting — calling for collaboration between police and residents — were met with jeers from activists.

Around 6 p.m. on March 21 — about 90 minutes before the start of the police board’s March meeting — five CPD tactical officers assigned to the Harrison District (11th) curbed Reed’s SUV in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand, allegedly after he was seen not wearing a seat belt.

Body-worn camera footage of the shooting, released last week by COPA, 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 CPD 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 — shot 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.

A CPD source said 11 spent bullet casings were found inside Reed’s vehicle. Reed’s autopsy was still pending last week and it was not yet known how many of the officers’ shots struck him.

Days after the shooting, Kersten wrote to Snelling to express concerns about the validity of the traffic stop that precipitated the shooting. She called for the four officers who fired their weapons to be stripped of police powers during the investigation’s pendency, and Kersten noted, too, that the same group of tactical officers was already under investigation in connection with another traffic stop they performed just weeks earlier.