This is one of the tougher stories to cover when it comes to police shootings and it hits the Hot Air news desk after University of Cincinnati Police Officer Raymond Tensing was indicted on murder charges this afternoon in the death of motorist Samuel Dubose earlier this month. A grand jury has reviewed the evidence, much of which has been released to the public, and it seems impossible to argue with the conclusion they reached. (CNN)
University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing was indicted Wednesday on a murder charge for shooting motorist Samuel Dubose during a traffic stop this month.
If convicted, Tensing could go to prison for life, said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters in a press conference in which he played body camera footage of the shooting.
“He purposely killed him,” said Deters, saying that Tensing shot Dubose in the head. Deters called the killing “asinine” and “senseless.”
“I was shocked. I was shocked,” the prosecutor said, describing how he felt when he saw the video. “I realized what this was going to mean to our community and it really broke my heart because I know it’s just bad. It’s just bad what he did. It shouldn’t have happened.”
I have a video of the police body cam for you below, though the ending is pretty hard to watch. Mr. Dubose had been pulled over for not having a license plate on the front of his vehicle. (Apparently that’s illegal in Ohio, though it’s not in many states.) But he did have the plate inside the car, I assume because it had fallen off or hadn’t yet been attached. There was a series of questions from Officer Tensing as he attempted to determine if Mr. Dubose had a valid drivers license or if he was driving under a suspended license. Dubose failed to produce a license. A bottle of gin was removed from the car, though it appeared to be unopened. The entire encounter seems to be nothing more than a routine traffic stop which happens millions of times every day across the country. Then Officer Tensing asks Mr. Dubose to take off his seat belt, presumably in preparation to ask him to step out of the vehicle. Mr. Dubose grabs the ignition key, starts the vehicle, puts it in gear and begins to pull away.
At that point, Officer Tensing draws his service weapon and shoots Mr. Dubose in the back of the head. The car continues forward, most likely in response to Dubose slumping forward and the weight of his leg / foot pressing on the accelerator. Here’s the video. The easily distressed should skip it. (The engagement with the motorist does not begin until approximately the four minute mark if you wish to fast forward)
Those of you who read this site regularly know me and the rather lengthy history I have of covering officer involved shootings. I’m a big defender of our first responders and have vigorously defended police officers who have been quickly tried and convicted in the court of public opinion when it turned out that tragic results sometimes come from the proper action of police in such situations. (Reference: Brown, Michael)
This is not one of those cases. There is more than ample evidence from the body camera footage to show that this was really nothing short of a murder caught on camera, though the legal classification of “murder” may not apply fully. That’s for a court to decide. But this shooting was inexcusable and it’s compounded by the fact that the story told by both Officer Tensing and his backup failed to match what was shown in the video. For this to be justified we would need to see that either the officer felt his life was in danger or that the fleeing suspect represented a potential threat to the community if he escaped custody. The officer had received no indication from dispatch that Mr. Dubose had outstanding paper on him for violent or dangerous crimes. There was no weapon in evidence. There was literally nothing but the fact that Dubose either didn’t have a license or was refusing to show it and then attempted to evade arrest. (If there was even cause for an arrest prior to his starting the vehicle.)
I know what some staunch defenders of our boys in blue might be saying at this point, all of which is true. Dubose should have cooperated. Even if he didn’t have a license, he should have followed the lawful orders of the officer, removed his seat belt and exited the vehicle. Had he done all of those things the worst he would have gotten is a ticket, assuming that everything was as presented to us. Yes.. all of that is true.
And none of it justified putting a bullet in the back of his head as he started to pull away at slow speed.
Given the list of things Dubose should have done as I listed above, there were a number of actions Officer Tensing could have taken which I would still fully support. He could have pulled a taser and even used it for failing to follow a lawful order. He could have jumped in his squad car, given chase (if high speeds were safe in that neighborhood) and even performed a PIT maneuver if required to apprehend him. You’re not supposed to run from the police and that’s a risk you take if you do, hopefully leading to at most an accident injury and damage to the vehicle.
But shooting the guy in the back of the head in this case was just completely beyond anything that can be justified. As I have prefaced in most of the police shooting stories I’ve covered in the past, police forces are composed of fallible human beings and every once in a while you find a bad one. In this case in Ohio we seem to have run across one of those. I don’t know what was in Officer Tensing’s heart when this happened. Perhaps it was just a gross error… but even then it is too big of an error to overlook. I also don’t know if murder is the appropriate charge or if it would wind up being some degree of manslaughter because of the presumption that the police default to a motive of attempting to enforce the law. But this is not a case to be dismissed. This was simply wrong.
The mother of Mr. Dubose appeared at the press conference where this was announced and offered forgiveness, while quoting extensively from scripture. It was a heart wrenching moment and my heart went out to her. With this indictment and arrest (the officer has turned himself in and is in custody) I pray that the community will remain peaceful and not give in to the temptation toward violent protests as the justice system does its work. The only other thing I would add is that body cameras, contrary to popular belief, did not prevent this shooting. But they will likely result in a proper resolution before a jury. This tragic case is actually making the case for more, not less, body cameras.