In a time marked by a series of deadly confrontations between African Americans and police, a white University of Cincinnati officer was indicted Wednesday on a murder charge in the shooting of an unarmed black motorist near the campus, with the county prosecutor calling it a “senseless act.”
The city had braced for possible fallout as the Hamilton County grand jury weighed the evidence in the case of Officer Ray Tensing, who on July 19 stopped Samuel DuBose for a missing front license plate.
DuBose, 43, was shot and killed during the encounter, which was captured on video by the officer's body camera. The video was released Wednesday by Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters.
“He purposely killed him,” Deters said of Tensing. “He should never have been a police officer.
“I have been doing this for 30 years, and this is the most asinine act by a police officer I have ever seen,” he said. “This type of senseless act, this doesn't happen in the United States, maybe in Afghanistan, but not in the United States. ”
The murder charge, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, comes after a string of incidents in which blacks have died at the hands of police officers in the last two years, including in Ferguson, Mo., New York's Staten Island, Cleveland and Baltimore.
In Texas, officials are investigating the case of Sandra Bland, who was involved in a contentious traffic stop. She was found dead July 13 in her cell at the Waller County Jail in what officials call a suicide by hanging. “Cincinnati is showing the rest of us how to do this right,” said Mark O'Mara, the attorney for the DuBose family. He and the family called for a peaceful response to the grand jury action.
“We understand the concerns, and we want the reaction to be completely peaceful. Sam was completely peaceful.... We want his memory to remain intact as a peaceful person.”
O'Mara was the lead defense attorney for George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted two years ago in the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
After the indictment was announced, Audrey DuBose thanked those who had marched in Cincinnati on behalf of her son. “I am ready to join the battlefield,” she said of civil rights efforts.
Authorities said Tensing spotted a car, driven by DuBose, that lacked the required front license plate. Tensing stopped the car, and the encounter escalated.
In the body-camera video, DuBose is repeatedly asked for his driver's license but does not produce it.
Tensing asks DuBose to unbuckle his seat belt, and the officer pulls on the door handle. But DuBose, with the window down, puts his hand on the door to keep it closed. Suddenly a gunshot is heard, and DuBose appears to be slumped to his right. The car rolls away, coming to stop at a nearby corner.
Tensing has said he was dragged by the car and forced to shoot at DuBose, according to his lawyer, Stuart Mathews.
But prosecutor Deters rejected that contention, saying that the video doesn't support that argument. Tensing “fell backward after he shot [DuBose] in the head,” Deters said, adding that it was a “chicken crap” traffic stop.
“I think he lost his temper because DuBose would not get out of the car,” Deters said. “You won't believe how quickly he pulls his gun and shoots him in the head.”
Tensing, 25, surrendered to authorities Wednesday afternoon.
Deters said he was shocked when he saw the video. “I realized what this was going to mean to our community. It really broke my heart because it's just bad,” he said. “I feel so sorry for this family and what they lost. And I feel sorry for the community too.”
Tensing has been fired, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono announced after the indictment was released.
“Beyond the criminal investigation, the university is reviewing what has occurred and we will take all necessary steps,” including training and staffing to upgrade the university force, he said.
Even after the indictment was announced, city officials said they were concerned about the community's response and the expected demonstrations. Mayor John Cranley noted that there have been violent demonstrations in other cities but said he hoped his city would be different.
“We all hoped that the charges that came out of the grand jury would match the video,” he said. “We wanted the right thing to be done, the just thing to be done, the fair thing to be done.”