A University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted Wednesday on a charge of murder for fatally shooting an unarmed black man during a traffic stop earlier this month.
“It was so unnecessary for this to occur,” Joe Deters, the Hamilton County prosecutor, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Sam Dubose, 43, was shot and killed during a July 19 traffic stop by Officer Ray Tensing. The officer initially said he was dragged by Dubose’s car, leading to the shooting. Deters said that Dubose “was subdued,” adding that Tensing had his license plate number.
“This office has probably reviewed upwards of hundreds of police shootings, and this is the first time that we’ve thought this is without question a murder,” he said.
While a university police report stated that Tensing said he had been dragged by the car before shooting, Deters said that the officer was not dragged. Rather, Tensing fell backwards after shooting Dubose in the head, Deters said.
Deters seemed emotional during his news conference, repeatedly referring to the shooting as a murder and appearing incensed that what he called “a pretty chicken-crap stop” led to a “senseless, asinine” incident. He also said that if Dubose began to leave, the officer should have just let him go rather than shoot him in the head. An arrest warrant had been issued for Tensing, the prosecutor said.
“I’m treating him like a murderer,” he said. “They’re out to get him.”
Tensing was on administrative paid leave, Deters said, adding that he hoped the officer would soon be on administrative paid leave in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
The University of Cincinnati had said that it was canceling classes Wednesday out of “an abundance of caution” due to the expected announcement of a grand jury decision and release of footage capturing the shooting.
“Could you imagine the outrage you would have if this was your kid, if this was your brother, over a stop like this?” Deters said. “And he didn’t do anything violent towards the officer. He wasn’t dragging him. And he pulled out his gun and intentionally shot him in the head.”
An attorney for Dubose’s family said Wednesday that his relatives did not want a violent or aggressive response to the news of the indictment.
“We want those reactions to be completely peaceful,” Mark O’Mara said at a news conference. “Sam was a peaceful person….We do not want any violence, any anger to come out in a way that denigrates who he was and who he wanted to be remembered as.”
The prosecutor’s office had also said that the body camera footage — which they said they would keep private until a grand jury had a chance to see it — would be released Wednesday. Police officials and prosecutors had previously refused to released body camera footage of the shooting.
Tensing’s attorney said earlier Wednesday that he has not been told whether his client will be indicted or charged, but that he would not be surprised if his client is charged.
“I don’t know what to expect, but based on the political climate here and nationally, I would not be surprised if my client is indicted,” said Stew Matthews, a Cincinnati-based attorney who frequently represents police officers and who has seen the body camera footage of the shooting.
Over the last year, a series of fatal incidents involving police officers have sparked a national debate about how law enforcement uses force, particularly toward minorities. The deaths of unarmed black men like Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., were followed by sustained protests that erupted again after the officers involved in both situations were not charged.
Police officers are rarely charged after fatally shooting people. A Washington Post investigation found that thousands of police shootings over the last decade have resulted in a few dozen officers being charged.
So far this year, more than 550 people have been shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings this year. Three officers have been charged related to those shootings, and in two of those cases — the deaths of Walter Scott and Eric Harris — the shootings were captured on video.
Weibel said that it appeared to him that “the back of [Tensing’s] pants and shirt looked as if it had been dragged over a rough surface.” Tensing said he had pain in his left arm and was taken to a nearby hospital.
The report concludes by noting that Tensing said the entire incident was captured by his body camera.
The University of Cincinnati Police Department says on its Web site that in addition to officers patrolling the main campus and serving other campuses, patrol officers also work with the city police to monitor neighborhoods around the main campus.
Last week, owing to concerns about the shooting involving a university police officer shooting someone off campus, school officials said these officers would begin only patrolling on the campus. In addition, the school’s police officers would only make traffic stops on the university’s campuses.
“We will be meeting soon with city and community leaders to evaluate our patrol areas,” Santa J. Ono, president of the university, said in a message to students, faculty and staff members. “The changes we have announced are not intended to be permanent, and we will be monitoring them on a continuing basis to make adjustments as warranted.”
Ono said that the Cincinnati police had agreed to increase patrols in areas surrounding the school’s campuses.
University officials have also announced that they will hire someone to independently review the department’s policies and procedures.
Deters said Wednesday that he thought the university police force should not be on patrols, saying instead that the city’s police force should do it.