Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters struck an emotional and powerful chord on Wednesday, when he repeatedly called the police shooting death of Sam DuBose, an unarmed African-American man, “a murder.”
Ray Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer, stopped DuBose on July 19, ostensibly for not having a front license plate on his car, and body cam video confirms that he shot and killed the 43-year-old after he reached to undo his seat belt. Tensing had initially claimed he fired on DuBose following a struggle which led to him being dragged behind his car. Tensing has since turned himself in to authorities and faces murder charges which could land him in prison for life. Tensing has been fired by the university and the killing has ignited racial tension.
“I realize what this was going to mean to our community, and it really broke my heart because it’s just bad,” Deters said. “I feel so sorry for this family and what they lost. And I feel sorry for the community, too.”
With his unflinching condemnation of Tensing, Deters has joined a growing list of prosecutors from across the country who’ve entered emotionally raw territory in police brutality cases. As the tally of African-American men and women killed by police or in police custody has continued to swell, drawing attention worldwide, prosecutors have become high-profile targets of criticism. Police who kill citizens are rarely ever prosecuted — let alone indicted by prosecutors or grand juries.
But in a rare turn on Wednesday, Deters, known locally as a tough-talking, law-and-order type, announced a grand jury’s decision to indict Tensing on murder charges. In announcing the charges, Deter at times seemed angry and anguished.
“This office has probably reviewed upwards of 100 police shootings and this is the first time where we thought, ‘This is without question a murder,’” Deters said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted.”
Deters went on to describe the killing as “an absolute tragedy.”
“It was senseless. He lost his temper because Mr. Dubose wouldn’t get out of his car quick enough,” Deters said. “When you see this, you won’t believe how quickly he pulls his gun. Maybe a second — it’s incredible.” The video of the incident was critical in arriving at the decision to indict Tensing, Deters said, adding that he thinks Tensing tried to intentionally mislead investigators. “The body cam was very important in this investigation,” Deters said. “I think it’s a good idea for police to wear body cameras. This time it led to an indictment for murder.” DuBose’s family said they are also concerned that Tensing’s officers may have tried to aid his cover-up of the shooting, noting their corroboration of his story in their official reports of the incident. Deters said he understands the family’s concerns and will further investigate the role Tensing’s fellow officers may have played in attempting to mislead investigators.