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

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

The 76-page federal complaint alleges that 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 body released videos and documents this month. The department has said Reed fired at the officers first. The images raised questions about the use of force by the officers and the tactical squads using unmarked police cars. Community activists have called for the officers to be fired immediately. The Cook County Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating.

The lawsuit alleges the officers failed to properly identify themselves as police, lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Reed, escalated the situation by immediately drawing weapons and shouting profanity-laced commands, and failed to provide timely medical care while Reed lay on the street.

“Leaders of the Chicago Police Department promote brazenly violent, militarized police tactics,” the lawsuit alleges. “The pretext of stopping Dexter Reed and the escalation exhibited by the offending police officers created an environment that directly led to his death.”

Police have said little about the shooting that left one officer injured, but initially noted that there was a “shootout.” The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police shootings, said this month that five members of a district tactical unit pulled over Reed’s vehicle, allegedly because he was not wearing a seat belt.

According to their initial findings, Reed shot first. Officers then returned fire, firing 96 shots in a span of 41 seconds, according to COPA. Reed was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The lawsuit 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, citing ongoing litigation. John Catanzara, president of the Chicago police union, said he would encourage officers to take countermeasures.

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 dispute” that caused serious injuries and required extensive rehabilitation, according to the family’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth.

He then suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which the lawsuit said affected his ability “to work, process information and communicate” and how he responded to police.

Police records show Reed was also charged with a felony stemming from an arrest in July 2023 when he was killed. Stroth declined to discuss the gun allegations, calling them irrelevant to the lawsuit.

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

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

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

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