Breach Between Top Cop, Misconduct Agency Widens Amid Probe of Shooting Death of Dexter Reed

Left: Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling appears on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Oct. 18, 2023. Right: Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, appears on “Chicago Tonight” on June 28, 2023. (WTTW News)Left: Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling appears on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Oct. 18, 2023. Right: Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, appears on “Chicago Tonight” on June 28, 2023. (WTTW News)

Chicago’s top cop said Friday the agency charged with investigating police misconduct had acted “irresponsibly” by publicly questioning whether the four officers who fired 96 shots in 41 seconds at Dexter Reed on March 21 lied about why they stopped his car shortly before the fatal shooting.

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In his first comments after the Civilian Office of Police Accountability on Tuesday released body camera footage showing Reed’s death, Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling said he would not discuss the details of the events that led to Reed’s death because the five officers have yet to be interviewed by investigators.

“We can’t speculate on that, and there’s speculation out there in the media right now as to why that happened,” Snelling said at a news conference alongside Mayor Brandon Johnson designed to tout efforts to reduce robberies. “Those who are putting that information out into the media are doing so irresponsibly.”

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Snelling’s remarks come nearly two months after the first sign of deep tension between CPD and COPA emerged, and reflect a widening breach between the city’s top cop and Andrea Kersten, COPA’s chief administrator, sources told WTTW News.

Pressed by WTTW News to clarify who was being irresponsible, Snelling said COPA had acted irresponsibly but did not mention Kersten by name.

“I’m passionate about this,” Snelling said. “A police officer was shot. I’ll repeat. A police officer was shot. A man lost his life. A man lost his life. This isn’t something that we should take lightly. This isn’t something that should play out in the court of public opinion.”

The Chicago Police Department is cooperating “100% with the investigation,” Snelling said.

Both COPA and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office are probing the shooting.

“You have to have the perspective of those officers who were on scene and engaged in this,” Snelling said. “We don’t know what those officers saw or what they thought or how they felt at the time.”

Snelling said he was prepared to make “hard decisions” once he has evidence in hand.

“But prior to that, we’re setting this on fire, and throwing fuel on it before we know all of the facts,” Snelling said, urging the news media to dig deeper without offering specifics.

“I believe in the integrity of the investigation, which is why I’ll never say anything that is going to sway that investigation or frame people’s minds about how that investigation should go,” Snelling said. “I’m going to allow that to occur the way it is supposed to.”

Without mentioning him by name, Snelling also appeared to blast failed mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green for posting on X, the social media site once known as Twitter, about the fatal police shooting of Reed. It is unclear why, or if, Snelling believes COPA is responsible for posts made by Green.

In 2021, Green set off a similar furor when he posted a false statement that then Mayor Lori Lightfoot planned to resign. Green later told the news media he first heard the rumor from members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union that represents Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers, and regretted amplifying it.

Snelling praised Johnson for working to keep the city calm after the release of the video of Reed’s death.

The five officers who were involved in the fatal shooting are on administrative duty until at least April 21, including the officer investigators believe Reed shot in the forearm after disregarding orders from the officers to roll down his windows, triggering an “eruption of gunfire,” Kersten said.

Officers told COPA investigators at the scene of the fatal shooting they stopped Reed because they believed he was not wearing his seat belt, a violation, according to reports signed by the officers involved and released by COPA because they are public records.

When COPA released the footage of Reed’s shooting, officials said in a news release they had recommended that the officers who shot at Reed be stripped of their police powers during the investigation.

Kersten told Snelling that recommendation was based on “grave concerns about the officers’ ability to assess what is a necessary, reasonable, and proportional use of deadly force,” according to a letter released by COPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by WTTW News.

It is standard procedure for the head of COPA to send the city’s top cop a letter detailing a recommendation to strip an officer of their badge during an investigation, and WTTW News routinely requests those documents. That letter is only available via FOIA.

That letter also questioned the basis for the traffic stop that led to Reed’s death.

“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 (his) vehicle windows,” Kersten wrote. “This evidence raises serious concerns about the validity of the traffic stop that led to the officers’ encounter with (Reed).”

In an interview with WTTW News on Tuesday, Kersten said there is no evidence that the officers who shot at Reed, who were part of a five-member, plainclothes tactical team, targeted Reed or his car for any reason other than a seat belt violation.

“We’ve obviously noticed the tint of the windows, as well,” Kersten told WTTW News. “All of that are factors that we will have to consider as we move through this investigatory process.”

Snelling appeared deeply angry that Kersten’s recommendation to strip those officers of their badges had been made public, although that information is public record and has been released in the same manner after other high-profile fatal police shootings.

“It is an amazing thing that information about stripping officers is out there,” Snelling said, his voice laden with sarcasm.

Snelling said he would make no decision on whether to strip the officers of their badges until after they are interviewed by investigators.

After April 21, Snelling can extend the officers’ paid administrative leave indefinitely.

Snelling said his command staff was examining how a 23-year-old officer was assigned to a tactical team charged with patrolling one of the most violent areas of the city.

“This is part of my training background,” Snelling said. “I look at game-time film. Where can we improve? What can we do better? How can we prepare our officers better? Where (did we) fail in leadership when it comes to our officers? We’re asking our officers to do a lot of things.”

Tensions Rise Between CPD and COPA 

Snelling said Feb. 22 that COPA had treated Chicago police officers so unfairly that they are at risk of suicide. The probes also compromise public safety, the city’s top cop said.

“We have officers right now who have been called murderers, who were simply trying to protect themselves or protect someone else,” Snelling said. “Unless we know the facts of that case, people will continue to call them murderers. We cannot allow that. We can’t, because those people become suicidal. Fairness, that’s all we ask. That’s all we ask.”

Without offering evidence, Snelling also accused Kersten of allowing “personal opinions and speculation” to influence findings that an officer has committed misconduct and should be disciplined.

Snelling has repeatedly said the department was capable of holding officers accountable of misconduct and said officers who commit “willful misconduct” have no place in the department.

Asked by WTTW News about those comments Friday, Snelling pointed out that he made them before Reed’s death, but did not respond to questions about whether his public criticism of COPA would encourage officers to expect unfair and biased treatment by COPA. That could compromise efforts to reform the police department, which has faced decades of scandals.

“Nothing and no one should be judged in the court of public opinion,” Snelling said. “My concern is that the integrity of the investigation isn’t jeopardized, and all of the evidence is collected and looked at properly. That it is assessed properly. And whatever the outcome is, we will deal with that when it happens.”

A spokesperson for COPA declined to respond to Snelling’s statements Friday. However, Kersten has said COPA has always “acted with integrity.”

Snelling’s remarks come seven years after a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Chicago police officers were rarely held accountable for misconduct because of badly broken systems as well as a “code of silence” among officers that allowed them to act with impunity.

CPD has fully complied with just 6% of the court order known as the consent decree designed to require the police department to change the way it trains, supervises and disciplines officers.

Snelling defended the department’s efforts to comply with the consent decree — now more than five years old — which was designed to prevent incidents like the one that claimed Reed’s life.

“We will get there,” Snelling said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago.

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