Family of man killed when Chicago police fired 96 times during traffic stop file wrongful death suit

CHICAGO (AP) — The family of a Chicago man killed when plainclothes police officers fired their guns nearly 100 times during a traffic stop filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday, accusing the department of “brutally violent” policing tactics.

The 76-page federal complaint alleges the officers violated multiple laws and police department policies during the “predatory, violent, unlawful traffic stop” on March 21 that left 26-year-old Dexter Reed dead.

A police oversight agency released videos and documents this month. The agency has said Reed fired at the officers first. The footage raised questions about the officers’ use of force and tactical squads that use unmarked police cars. Community activists have called for the officers to be fired immediately. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office is also investigating.

The lawsuit claims the officers didn’t properly identify themselves as police, lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Reed, escalated the situation by immediately drawing guns and shouting profanity-laced commands, and failed to provide timely medical care as Reed lay in the street.

“Chicago Police Department leaders promote brutally violent, militarized policing tactics,” the lawsuit alleges. “The pretextual stop of Dexter Reed, and the escalation exhibited by the offending police officers, created an environment that directly resulted in his death.”

Police have said little about the shooting that left one officer injured, initially noting an “exchange of gun fire.” The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police shootings, said this month that five members of a district tactical unit pulled Reed’s vehicle over, purportedly because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

According to their early findings, Reed fired first. Then officers returned fire, shooting 96 shots over a span of 41 seconds, according to COPA. Reed was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The suit does not mention investigators’ finding that Reed shot first.

The lawsuit names the city of Chicago, the police department and the five officers involved.

Chicago police and the city declined comment Wednesday, noting the pending litigation. John Catanzara, president of the Chicago police officers’ union, said he would encourage the officers to countersue.

Reed’s family is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages. They were expected to speak to reporters later Wednesday.

The lawsuit also sheds more light on Reed’s life and health.

In 2021, Reed was shot during a “family altercation” that caused severe injuries and required extensive rehabilitation, according to the family’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth.

After that, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which affected his ability “to work, process information and to communicate” and influenced how he responded to police, according to the lawsuit.

Police records show, Reed was also facing felony gun charges from a July 2023 arrest when he was killed. Stroth declined to discuss the gun charges, calling it irrelevant to the lawsuit.

He said the family wants to ensure the police department better complies with a court-supervised reform plan.

“This family has urgency because Dexter Reed is not coming back,” Stroth said. “We can certainly save others.”

COPA was created in 2016 after the city was forced to release dashcam video of then-officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Thereafter, the U.S. Justice Department found a long history of racial bias and excessive use of force by Chicgo police officers, and the department has been under a court-imposed consent decree since 2019.

The independent monitoring team overseeing the department’s compliance has repeatedly found it falling behind on deadlines and specific goals.

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