The family of a black man who was fatally shot by an Indianapolis police officer called Wednesday for the federal government to intervene and investigate his death, with a family attorney saying they don’t trust the police department and believe it is trying to conceal information.
Swaray Conteh, one of the attorneys for the family of 21-year-old Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, said at a news conference that the family is seeking federal involvement to investigate Reed’s fatal May 6 shooting by an officer so that a thorough, transparent investigation can be conducted.
The attorneys also said Reed didn’t exchange gunfire with the officer who shot him, as police have said, and they pleaded for more witnesses to come forward and demanded the release of Reed’s autopsy report.
“He did not shoot a gun, did not point a gun, did not brandish a gun at an officer. He did not. The narrative that you’ve heard is incorrect, is false, is misleading. It did not happen,” said Fatima Johnson, another Reed family attorney.
The family’s demands come at a time of nationwide protests over the treatment of black people by police after the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer used his knee to pin down Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he pleaded for air.
Two days after Reed was fatally shot, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears asked a county court to appoint an independent prosecutor to handle the investigation into his shooting because Chief Randal Taylor of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was a witness in the case.
Conteh said that weeks after Mears’ request, he, Johnson and Reed’s family “understand that the court is having trouble getting an independent prosecutor to look at this case.” He said this and the family’s distrust of the police is why they were calling for federal involvement.
“We want the federal government to intervene immediately. I think we’ll be satisfied if the FBI or the Justice Department gets involved that way,” he said after the news conference.
Conteh said the family filed a court motion Sunday in regards to Mears’ request for an independent prosecutor in which the family asked for police to disclose the name of the officer who fatally shot Reed and the name of an officer who made a comment about his body immediately after his death. They also requested the names of all officers who were at the scene within 30 minutes of Reed’s shooting.
Conteh said the family sent a letter to the Department of Justice on May 29 seeking federal involvement. He said the family would like for a federal probe of Reed’s death to occur before the police department issues a report of its own investigation into his shooting “because we know if they do it’s going to be slanted. It will not be a thorough, transparent investigation.
“So we want a federal government investigation that will look at the facts before anything comes out in public.”
Reed’s mother, Demetree Wynn, recalled with anguish during the news conference the moment she viewed her son’s body after it was released by the coroner’s office, saying that “they shot his eyes out.”
“That’s what I saw. I didn’t get a chance to look at the rest of his body because I couldn’t get past his face. … IMPD is lying. The truth is going to come out, no matter what,” she said.
Following the news conference, Taylor issued a statement calling for the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation, saying that it’s “unacceptable” that nearly a month had passed since a special prosecutor was requested.
“Our community is rightly calling for the release of information and the fulfillment of our commitment to a transparent investigation with monitoring from federal authorities. This simply cannot occur without the direction and oversight of an independent prosecutor,” Taylor said.
He added that that prosecutor should “release information as soon as is possible, and make a swift and thorough charging determination based on the facts of the case.”
Events surrounding Reed’s shooting were livestreamed on Facebook by Reed through his cellphone, Conteh said. That video includes audio from a police detective after Reed’s shooting saying: “I think it’s going to be a closed casket, homie,” an apparent reference to a closed-casket funeral.
Reed’s family is also seeking the release of that officer’s recorded comments.
The police department suspended that detective for those remarks, which Taylor said were “unacceptable.”
The family said every witness their attorneys spoke to disputed the police contention that Reed fired a gun at an officer before his death. A video released by the family and reviewed by The Indianapolis Star that was apparently recorded moments after Reed was killed captures the voices of three women describing what they say they witnessed while driving near the scene, with one saying, “They killed this man for no reason. Shot this man in his back.”
Police said they began pursuing Reed after officers, including Chief Taylor, saw someone driving recklessly on an interstate. Supervisors ordered an end to that pursuit because the vehicle was going nearly 90 mph, police said.
But an officer later spotted the car on a city street before it was parked, and the officer then chased Reed on foot. Assistant chief Chris Bailey said Reed had exchange gunfire with the officer, who is African American, according to the The Indianapolis Star. Bailey said a gun found near Reed appeared to have been fired at least twice.