Cincinnati on Edge as Tensing Murder Trial Starts
Potential jurors are due in court Tuesday for the murder trial of a White former university police officer charged with killing an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop in Ohio.
Ray Tensing, 26, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of Sam DuBose, 43, near the University of Cincinnati last year. The Hamilton County prosecutor called Tensing’s actions “asinine” and “senseless” in announcing the officer’s indictment and releasing a police body camera video.
An outside review commissioned by the university said the now-fired UC officer showed poor police tactics in an “entirely preventable” fatal shooting.
Defense attorney Stewart Mathews has said Tensing feared getting dragged under DuBose’s car as he tried to drive away. And legal experts say jurors often want to give police the benefit of the doubt in deadly force cases.
“It’s divided the community. But I think it’s a tough case for the prosecutor because juries have a difficult time convicting police officers,” said attorney Mike Allen, a former prosecutor and also a former police officer, including for UC. “They realize that police officers have to make split-second decisions sometimes.”
“They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions,” said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “They think, ‘What if that was me? What if that was my child who was the police officer?'”
To convict Tensing of murder, Allen said, jurors would have to find he purposely killed DuBose. He also is charged with voluntary manslaughter, which means killing during sudden passion or fit of rage.
Both sides in the Tensing case plan to call expert witnesses to deconstruct the sights and sounds of the traffic stop and shooting.Tensing’s body camera recording shows DuBose contending he had done nothing wrong and apparently trying to keep the officer from opening his car door before the video becomes shaky and a gunshot is heard.
Mathews has indicated he will call Tensing to the stand, where the former officer would likely describe fear he felt when deciding he needed to fire.
Tensing had about three years of suburban police experience before joining the UC police in 2014. He had no record of using deadly force.
An outside consultant’s report found Tensing made more traffic stops and with a higher racial disparity than other UC officers.
Court records show DuBose had a long history with the law, mainly for traffic infractions and for selling and possessing marijuana. His family and friends called him a peaceful “jokester” into music and motorcycles.
The University of Cincinnati has restructured its public safety department and made reforms since the shooting. It also agreed to a $5.3 million settlement with DuBose’s family that includes free undergraduate tuition for his 13 children.
Jury orientation and the filling out of lengthy questionnaires are planned, with the two sides to start questioning juror candidates on Oct. 31. More than 230 people were in the jury pool as of the end of last week.
Seating a jury could take several days for a case that has drawn widespread attention during a time of increased focus on the treatment of black people by police.
Cincinnati officials have been meeting with civil rights, clergy and other community leaders ahead of the trial, and security has been beefed up in the courthouse, with demonstrations by Black Lives Matter and other groups planned outside during the proceedings.
“We will be trying to establish a sense of calm in the city,” City Manager Harry Black told The Cincinnati Enquirer.