Russell Hebets July 30, 2015

On July 19th, Officer Ray Tensing pulled over Samuel DuBose for missing a front license plate. During the exchange, Tensing repeatedly asked Mr. DuBose for his driver’s license, and Mr. DuBose responded he did not have it with him. Then Tensing asked Mr. DuBose to unbuckle his seat belt and grabbed the handle of the car door. Seeing the officer grabbing the car handle, Mr. DuBose tried to start the engine. What followed in only 5 seconds was Tensing grabbing the door with his left hand, pulling his firearm with his right, yelling “stop, stop,” and shooting Mr. DuBose in the head. Tensing fell to the ground from the shot as the car rolled forward down the street, crashing into a pole on the corner.

Indicted for murder

Following far too many police shootings of African Americans by police officers in the past year, stories like this are all too familiar. But this time, Cincinnati public officials are doing something about it. The county’s prosecutor, Joseph Deter, stated that pulling Mr. DuBose over for a missing license plate was a “chicken crap” stop and called the actions of Officer Tensing “senseless” and “asinine.” In addition to an involuntary manslaughter charge, Tensing was indicted by a grand jury for murder. If he is convicted, Tensing could go to prison for the rest of his life.

The power of the body camera

It is really lucky for Deter and his office that Tensing was wearing a body camera, which caught the entire encounter on tape and serves as strong evidence against Tensing. We recently blogged on body cams which are advantageous to both the officers and the general public. Body cameras are becoming more and more common across the country and in Colorado, with the Denver Police Department recently requesting 800 new body cams for officers.  Body camera footage can prove an officer’s side of the story if an interaction goes wrong. Additionally, body cameras are beneficial for civilians because if something like the DuBose shooting happens, the case does not come down to a bystander’s word against an officer’s. In DuBose’s case, Deter was very strategic about the release of the footage to the general public – he waited until after the indictment was secured so Tensing could not change his story of what happened.

The officer’s version of events

Tensing’s story of what happened differs greatly from what the body camera footage reveals. You can watch the footage for yourself here. Tensing says that when he reached his hand inside the vehicle, it became stuck and he was afraid the car would start moving and pull him underneath. He also claims that he shot DuBose because the car was dragging him alongside it. One officer who arrived at the scene claims to have actually seen Tensing being dragged by the vehicle. Other officers present at the scene state that Tensing told them he shot DuBose because he was being dragged. Given what the body camera footage actually shows, it seems likely that these officers are trying to cover for Tensing.

Finally taking action

This case is the first time in the Cincinnati county where a police officer has been indicted for murder. Given the political climate of the country as shootings like this happen too frequently, all eyes will be on Deter and his office as they seek justice for Samuel DuBose.