A University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted Wednesday on a murder charge in the shooting of 43-year-old Samuel Dubose, an unarmed black man, during a routine traffic stop.
In conjunction with the indictment, Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters released a video of the shooting from the body camera of the shooting officer, Ray Tensing.
The video has been described as so disturbing, some city officials — including the city manager and the police chief — have worried that its release could lead to protests or riots.
The release of the video on Wednesday, combined with strong comments from Deters, seemed to pre-empt that reaction. In the press conference, Deters was unequivocal in his criticism of Tensing.
“This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make,” said Deters during a news conference. “It’s an absolute tragedy in 2015 that anyone would behave in this manner. It was senseless. He lost his temper because Mr. Dubose wouldn’t get out of his car quick enough. When you see this you won’t believe how quickly he pulls his gun. Maybe a second — it’s incredible.”
“It was a senseless, asinine shooting … 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,'” said Deters.
“[Tensing] wasn’t dealing with someone who was wanted for murder, OK? He was dealing with someone who didn’t have a front licence plate … This is, in the vernacular, a pretty chicken-crap stop, all right? And — I could use harsher words,” he added.
Since the shooting, Tensing has maintained that he was “dragged” by Dubose’s car after a physical altercation between the two and was forced to shoot. The video appears to contradict Tensing’s account.
While the video is slightly more than three minutes long, the entire exchange prior to the shooting lasts less than two minutes. The exchange begins with Officer Tensing asking Dubose for his licence. The officer then asks Dubose why he doesn’t have a licence plate on the front of his car, his reason for pulling Dubose over.
Dubose tries to show Officer Tensing the missing licence plate in his glove box, but Officer Tensing instead asks for his licence again.
Officer Tensing asks about a bottle on the floor. Dubose hands him what appears to be an unopened bottle of gin.
The officer then asks again about Dubose’s licence. When Dubose says that he can’t find his card, he tells the officer “I have a licence. You can run my name.” Dubose then asks why he was pulled over.
Tensing asks Dubose several questions about not having his licence, tells Dubose to take his seat belt off, and begins to open the car door. Dubose holds the door closed and starts his car engine. It’s hard to tell what happens from there. A short altercation ensues.
Tensing moves to his left and reaches into the car with his left hand. He yells “stop” twice, and fires his weapon with his right hand. He falls backward shortly after. The car speeds away, possibly from Dubose’s foot slamming on the accelerator as he slumped.
On a recording of police radio, Tensing says “I almost got run over by the car. He took off on me. I discharged one round. Shot the man in the head,” according to the New York Times.
Officer Eric Weibel, another university officer who arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting, wrote in his report that Tensing told him that “he was being dragged by the vehicle and had to fire his weapon” and that “he was almost run over.”
Officer Tensing’s lawyer, Stew Mathews, has disputed Deters’s characterization of the shooting saying that another video of the shooting would show a different story, according to the New York Times.
Deters had his own conclusions.
“I think he lost his temper because Mr. Dubose wouldn’t get out of his car,” Deters said.
After Deters’ press conference, Dubose’s family held their own press conference.
“I trust God, and I knew it was going to be alright. I knew that if this man [Tensing] went free, and nothing was done to him, it was because he was really a righteous man and he didn’t do nothing,” said Dubose’s mother, Audrey Dubose.
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