University of Cincinnati Officer Indicted in Fatal Shooting of Driver

Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times, July 30, 2015

A University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted Wednesday on a murder charge in what a prosecutor called “a senseless, asinine shooting” during a minor traffic stop. It was the first time such a charge had been leveled against an officer in the city.

The Hamilton County prosecuting attorney, Joseph T. Deters, released a much-anticipated video of the shooting of Samuel Dubose, which he described as crucial evidence that the officer, Ray Tensing, had lied about being dragged by Mr. Dubose’s car. A grand jury, Mr. Deters announced, indicted Officer Tensing on a murder charge, punishable by life in prison, and a voluntary manslaughter charge.

“It was a senseless, asinine shooting,” Mr. Deters said at a news conference, using stark terms to denounce the July 19 episode, Officer Tensing’s claims about it and the officer himself. “This office has probably reviewed upwards of 100 police shootings, and this is the first time we’ve thought, ‘This is without question a murder.’ ”

“He wasn’t dealing with someone who was wanted for murder,” he said. “He was dealing with someone who didn’t have a front license plate. This was, in the vernacular, a pretty chicken-crap stop.”

A lawyer for Officer Tensing, Stew Mathews, disputed Mr. Deters’s comments during an interview with an Ohio television station and said that other video of the shooting would tell a completely different story. {snip}

The county prosecutor’s office said that no law enforcement officer in Hamilton County had ever before been indicted on murder charges for use of force while on duty. At the news conference, Mr. Deters said Officer Tensing “should never have been a police officer,” but he declined to elaborate.

Asked if he thought Officer Tensing, 25, had tried to mislead investigators with his account of the shooting, Mr. Deters said, “Yeah, yes, I think he was making an excuse for the purposeful killing of another person.”

“I think he lost his temper because Mr. Dubose wouldn’t get out of his car,” he said.

{snip}

City officials, religious leaders and members of Mr. Dubose’s family pleaded for peace on the city’s streets, hoping not to see the kind of violent unrest that shook Baltimore in April after Freddie Gray died in police custody.

“The officer was wrong, and when we’re wrong, we have to be held accountable,” said Jeffrey Blackwell, the Cincinnati police chief. But “make no mistake, we are operationally ready to respond,” he added. “Violence and lawlessness will not be tolerated.”

Mr. Dubose, 43, a father of 10, was just south of the university campus, driving a green 1998 Honda Accord without a front license plate, at about 6:30 p.m. when Officer Tensing began following him, according to an account that Jason Goodrich, chief of the university police, gave on Monday. Moments later, the officer pulled Mr. Dubose over on a side street a few blocks from the campus.

On the video, Officer Tensing repeatedly asks Mr. Dubose to produce a driver’s license. Mr. Dubose says several times that he has a license, before admitting that he does not have it with him. He shows that he has the missing license plate with him, in the glove box.

At one point, the officer asks, “What’s that bottle on the floor?” Mr. Dubose reaches down, picks up a bottle of gin and hands it to the officer.

Officer Tensing starts to open the driver’s door and tells Mr. Dubose to remove his seatbelt; Mr. Dubose pulls the door closed again and restarts his car. What happens next is a flurry of blurred movements: The officer steps to his left; the car’s engine can be heard revving; and the officer reaches into the car with his left hand, yells “stop” twice, draws his gun, fires with his right hand and appears to fall backward.

From the moment the officer touches the door handle to the fatal shot, less than five seconds pass. Then he runs after the car as it rolls off before coming to a stop a short distance away, its driver fatally wounded or already dead.

Another university officer who arrived shortly after the shooting, Eric Weibel, wrote in his report that Officer Tensing had told him that “he was being dragged by the vehicle and had to fire his weapon,” and that “Officer Tensing stated that he was almost run over.” A third officer, he wrote, said he had seen Officer Tensing being dragged.

“Looking at Officer Tensing’s uniform, I could see that the back of his pants and shirt looked as if it had been dragged over a rough surface,” Officer Weibel wrote.

Mr. Deters would not say what Officer Tensing had told prosecutors.

“He wasn’t dragging,” he said. “No. He fell backwards after he shot him in the head.”

“People want to believe that Mr. Dubose had done something violent toward the officer,” Mr. Deters said. “He did not. He did not at all.”

On an audio recording of police radio communications, after Officer Tensing shouted: “Shots fired! Shots fired,” a dispatcher asked who was injured. It is not clear if he replied “I am injured” or “I’m uninjured.”

“I almost got run over by the car,” the officer said. “He took off on me. I discharged one round. Shot the man in the head.”

{snip}

Even if the car had begun to roll forward, Mr. Deters said, no use of force was called for, and certainly not deadly force. He said he had no idea whether race played a role in the episode.

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.