Alderman files complaint against police oversight agency head for media interviews on Dexter Reed case

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A Northwest Side alderman filed a complaint Tuesday against the head of the independent agency that oversees the Chicago Police Department after she spoke with some media outlets about the fatal shooting of Dexter Reed, the latest escalation by pro-law enforcement officials who are unhappy with her.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th, sent a letter to the city’s Office of the Inspector General criticizing Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, for her recent local and national news interviews and calling for COPA’s ongoing probe into the 26-year-old’s death to be turned over to state police.

“Chief Administrator Kersten should not be participating in interviews or comment in memos regarding investigations that have yet to commence,” Sposato wrote. “Her comments have led to a tainting of public opinion about the case, and of the brave members of the Chicago Police Department.”

COPA spokesperson Jennifer Rottner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, and OIG spokesperson Deanna Shoss declined to comment.

Kersten’s recent media and public appearances on the shooting have included WTTW, ABC-7, WGN-9, CBS-2, CNN, ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith’s show and a press scrum after remarks at the City Club of Chicago.

But while Sposato accused the COPA boss of speaking “in an accusatory and inappropriate prejudicial tone about facts that have yet to be investigated,” his letter did not cite examples from her public remarks. The alderman acknowledged in a phone interview that he could not find such examples before then punting that responsibility to Inspector General Deborah Witzburg.

“We scoured all over the place and then we couldn’t find the stuff that we were making accusations about, so we didn’t want to just put a pile of (expletive) in front of the inspector general and have her investigate everything,” Sposato said. “So we tried to give her what we could. We’re going to continue to investigate and look for stuff that we have, but, yeah, we had a bit of trouble.”

Body-camera footage and a COPA statement released last week showed Chicago police officers firing 96 times at Reed after he apparently shot and wounded a tactical officer during a traffic stop on March 21. A group of tactical officers curbed Reed’s vehicle because he allegedly wasn’t wearing a seat belt in the 3800 block of West Ferdinand Street in the Humboldt Park neighborhood shortly after 6 p.m.

Warning: Graphic content. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released video footage Tuesday that shows a group of Chicago police officers firing dozens of bullets at Dexter Reed, 26, during a traffic stop in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on March 21, 2024. (Chicago Police Department)

Sposato’s OIG complaint does quote Kersten writing to Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling days after the shooting, questioning the validity of the traffic stop and recommending that the four officers who fired at Reed be stripped of their police powers during the investigation’s pendency.

“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. “Based on the totality of the available evidence, COPA has grave concerns about the officers’ ability to assess what is a necessary, reasonable, and proportional use of deadly force.”

But that correspondence — sharper in tone than Kersten’s media interviews on the case — was only made public because news outlets including the Tribune filed Freedom of Information Act requests last week. Presented with this distinction, Sposato responded, “Well, then, I guess she needs to be more careful about what she’s doing and what she thinks is public and private. Because nowadays you’d have to assume everything you say or do will either be videoed or recorded.”

When asked about what rules Kersten would be violating for sending a private letter to Snelling, the alderman said, “I don’t know, I’m not the inspector general. … Why didn’t I get more stuff? Well, how long do we wait? I mean, I wanted to do this awhile ago.” He said his priority remains getting the OIG to reprimand Kersten and instruct her to stop speaking on the case.

Sposato’s complaint comes after a steady drip of disapproval of Kersten’s leadership from pro-law enforcement figures — though to be sure, tension between those backing the police department and those running the city agency that probes misconduct has always existed.

Resistance has escalated upon Kersten’s ascendance, which included aldermen attempting to scuttle her appointment because she had recommended slain officer Ella French be disciplined for the botched police raid of Anjanette Young. Last fall, the head of the Chicago police union, John Catanzara, also cast her investigation into later-unfounded sexual abuse allegations of migrants at a CPD district as a “witch hunt.”

Now, the high-profile shooting of Reed has attracted more criticism, with some of the most fiery words coming from Snelling. In a Friday news conference, the top cop ripped into unspecified figures who he said were sharing information with the media before the investigation’s conclusion, in an apparent pointed reprimand of Kersten.

“Those officers up to this point have not been interviewed. So without those officers being interviewed and having something concrete that is written where these officers gave a statement as to why that traffic stop occurred, we can’t speculate on that,” Snelling said when asked about details on the traffic stop. “And there’s speculation out there in the media right now as to why that happened. … Those who are putting that information out into the media are doing so irresponsibly.”

Kersten was asked about Snelling’s reproach and her letter to him during some of her media interviews, but she refrained from going as far as she did in her letter beyond saying “questions” remained.

“The letter that was sent to the superintendent about that is after reviewing all available video evidence and preliminary information that we’d received on scene,” Kersten said in a WGN appearance last week. “We have more questions about that information.”

Still, Snelling on Friday balked at even that level of public discussion given that the officers had not been interviewed, telling reporters that “no one should be judged in a court of public opinion.” It was his latest salvo against COPA and followed a lengthy, stern critique before the Chicago Police Board in February against the agency’s proclivity towards “personal opinions and speculation.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson has publicly spoken once about the fatal shooting so far, in a Tuesday news conference after the video’s release. The progressive mayor spoke broadly about justice and rebuilding trust between police and the community, but did not weigh in on the specifics of the case.

The Tribune’s Sam Charles contributed reporting.