96 shots fired in fatal traffic stop. Chicago watchdog agency and bodycam video raise questions.

CHICAGO – For Sheila Banks, the late afternoon of March 21 began easy, with her son Dexter Reed heading out to enjoy his new SUV. “Momma, I’m going out for a ride,” she recalled Tuesday.

It ended with Reed, 26, being gunned down on a residential corner by Chicago police officers who fired nearly 100 rounds in less than a minute, according to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), the city's police watchdog agency.

Officers said they pulled Reed over for not wearing a seat belt – a contention that COPA questions amid rising tension in recent weeks over the killing and officers' use of deadly force.

In releasing footage of the shooting Tuesday, the police accountability board said Reed “appears” to have fired first. But attorneys for the family said a deeper investigation needs to happen. They also say the traffic stop was unconstitutional and not the first time that Chicago cops have falsely claimed seat belt violations as the impetus for confrontational pullovers of drivers.

Last but certainly not least, they alleged Tuesday that Reed was killed while unarmed and trying to surrender.

“If you watch the end of the video, you see an officer, military-style, executing Dexter while he laid by his vehicle, unarmed and helpless,” said Andrew M. Stroth, a prominent local civil rights attorney representing Reed’s family.

City officials, from Mayor Brandon Johnson to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, lamented Reed’s death, but have not said it warrants charges against the officers.

The shooting is the latest in a city that has long had a history of controversy surrounding police killings of men of color.

96 shots fired in 41 seconds

The shooting happened the evening of March 21, after five plainclothes officers in an unmarked car pulled Reed over at a residential corner on Chicago’s West Side.

In the newly released bodycam footage, Reed is seen driving a white SUV with heavily tinted windows and dents along its side. A female officer tells him to roll down the window. He does so. A black ski mask obscures much of his expression, but his eyes appear wide.

But, Reed resists rolling down other windows and unlocking his doors and the situation escalates.

Reed began firing, officials said, hitting one of the officers, although it's unclear from the bodycam footage who fired first.

Officers fired on Reed 96 times in 41 seconds, according to the accountability board.

Bodycam footage shows one officer emptying his pistol multiple times on Reed. It's unclear if the 26-year-old's hands are raised.

The officer continues firing after Reed goes down and is motionless, the bodycam video shows. In the video, an officer can be heard calling out that Reed's gun is still in the car.

It's unclear why Reed was carrying a gun. He was awaiting trial in a gun case, according to Cook County court records.

An officer hit in the arm in the shootout was in good condition after the shooting, officials said.

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‘Grave concerns’ from Chicago’s police watchdog

In a letter last week, Andrea Kersten, head of the accountability board, questioned the truthfulness of the officers who fired on Reed and the appropriateness of their response. She recommended that the officers be stripped of their police powers while the board investigates.

The board is “uncertain” how the officers could have seen the undone seat belt, given the tinted windows of Reed's car and its position relative to the unmarked police vehicle, Kersten wrote to Chicago’s top cop in a letter USA TODAY obtained via freedom of information request.

“This evidence raises serious concerns about the validity of the traffic stop that led to the officers’ encounter,” Kersten wrote.

The officers’ response to Reed's reported gunshots also raises “serious questions about the proportionality of their use of deadly force,” she said.

“The evidence recovered in the aftermath of this incident indicates that all four officers discharged their firearms at (Reed) after he exited his vehicle and was unarmed,” Kersten wrote.

In particular, she calls out one officer for firing at Reed at least 50 times, including as he “lay motionless.”

Kersten wrote the board “has grave concerns about the officers’ ability to assess what is a necessary, reasonable, and proportional use of deadly force.”

‘Pretextual, unconstitutional and unreasonable’

At a news conference Tuesday, Stroth and other attorneys decried the shooting as a clear “disproportionate use of force.”

Reed had a gun, they confirmed, but an investigation would be needed to confirm that he fired first. The lawyers stressed the search began with a “pretextual, unconstitutional and unreasonable” search that's the latest example of the city’s failure to comply with a federal order to reform its policing.

“Dexter is not here because of the actions and inactions of this administration and this police chief,” Stroth said, referring to the freshman mayor and Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling. “How many more Black and Brown men are going to die before this city will change.”

Chicago’s legacy of interactions between police and civilians is historically so bad that in 2019, a federal judge ordered the city to reform its policing following a Department of Justice investigation of the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

‘On the hunt’

That 2019 federal decree, in particular, called out the Chicago Police Department’s use of “tactical units,” said Sheila Bedi, another attorney for Reed’s family.

Federal investigators referred to the plainclothes teams in unmarked cars as “on the hunt,” Bedi said.

Years after the federal order, those same “aggressive practices” are still in use, the Northwestern Law School professor said.

“This is not the stuff of community policing, this is policing as an occupied force,” she said, adding that’s exactly what the federal order was meant to address “and clearly that failed.”

The decree also tried to eliminate “pretextual” traffic stop stops, of which she said Reed's alleged seat belt violation was a prime example.

“In fact, they don’t care about the seat belt," she said. "They really want an excuse to search the car and come up with something else.”

Mayor calls footage 'deeply disturbing'

At a separate news conference Tuesday following the release of the videos, the mayor offered his condolences to the family and called the footage “deeply disturbing.”

“I am devastated to see yet another young Black man lose his life during an interaction with police,” Johnson said.

The former teacher noted the shooting occurred not far from his own home on the West Side, and both Reed and the officer shot, who is also Black, “could have been my students.”

The officers involved in the shooting will be placed on 30-day administrative leave and the quick release of the videos, which comes ahead of a 60-day mandate, is a show of his administration’s commitment to transparency, he said.

“Attempts to withhold or delay information are mistakes of the past,” he said, in an apparent reference to former Mayor and current Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel’s delaying the release of the video of McDonald’s death.

Foxx said her office is “investigating to determine if criminal charges are warranted.”

‘Momma, I’m going for a ride’

Reed’s family and attorneys held the news conference outside the accountability board’s offices on the Near West Side of the city.

“I’m hurt, I’m sick, I feel like I’ve been shot up, I’m burning up inside,” Banks said.

Reed, an athlete who loved basketball, was the one who checked in on her, she said, making sure she was eating well and exercising. He bought her a Peloton bike.

“He was a good kid,” Banks said, her voice breaking, “and why they did him like that, I just don't understand. What is wrong with the police?”

That final day, he told her, “‘Momma, I’m going for a ride,’ and they killed him,” she said.

Banks collapsed from grief as she concluded speaking. The family carried her to a chair where she continued to cry “they killed him, they killed my son.”

The family is raising money to cover the cost of Reed’s recent funeral and legal fees through a GoFundMe page.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Seat belt check: Cops fired 96 shots at motorist, killing him