No Third Trial for Tensing

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said he still believes Ray Tensing murdered Sam DuBose during a 2015 traffic stop but that he doesn't believe a third jury would convict the officer.

click to enlarge Audrey DuBose, mother of Sam DuBose, reacts after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced he will not seek a third trial for former UCPD officer Ray Tensing.
Audrey DuBose, mother of Sam DuBose, reacts after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced he will not seek a third trial for former UCPD officer Ray Tensing.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced July 18 that his office would not seek a third retrial for white University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing in the shooting death of black unarmed motorist Sam DuBose.

The announcement came during continued scrutiny around racially charged police involved shootings across the country, and just a day before the second anniversary of DuBose’s death during a traffic stop in Mount Auburn. Tensing, who is white, says he feared for his life and was dragged by DuBose’s car during that stop. Footage from his body camera does not appear to show he was dragged, but two juries could not reach a verdict in the case. One jury deadlocked on the murder and manslaughter charges prosecutors indicted Tensing on in November last year, another this June.

Deters said his opinion of the case — that Tensing murdered DuBose — hadn’t changed, but that he doesn’t believe he can win a conviction.

“After vigorously prosecuting Ray Tensing twice, speaking to some of the jurors and consulting with my assistant prosecutors, I do not believe there is a likelihood of success at trial,” Deters said in a statement about the decision.

“I don’t like it,” Deters said during a news conference announcing his decision, “but two juries haven’t been swayed.”

CityBeat was not permitted into that news conference, though a reporter watched outside via a live feed. Personnel outside Deters' office said the event was for "major outlets only," but no other reason was given for barring the reporter.

DuBose’s family said they are devastated by the decision.

"We’ve got to stand up and say ‘enough is enough,’ " Audrey DuBose, Sam DuBose’s mother, said immediately after the announcement. “Our people are not just going to die by the hands of cops or anyone else. Our system doesn’t give a black man a chance.”

Racial justice activists also expressed anger about the announcement.

“What does this say to us? What does this say to our children?" activist Iris Roley asked after the decision was announced. Roley was instrumental in Cincinnati’s 2003 Collaborative Agreement, which came after the April 2001 shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas.

Cincinnati NAACP Vice President Joe Mallory decried the decision and laid heavy blame on Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz, who ruled that certain evidence — a T-shirt Tensing was wearing under his uniform that featured a Confederate flag and statistics showing Tensing pulled over a much higher percentage of black drivers than other UCPD officers — would not be admitted into the second trial. Mallory also called for the firing of UCPD officers Philip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt, who originally corroborated Tensing's story before admitting they didn't see him being dragged, as well as Cincinnati Police Sgt. Shannon Heine, the lead investigator in the killing. Prosecutors raised questions about Heine's gentle treatment of Tensing during initial questioning about the shooting.

An hour after Deters’ news conference, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman announced that the Southern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney’s office will investigate DuBose’s shooting for possible federal Civil Rights violations.

Tensing's attorney Stew Mathews told local media that his client is somewhat relieved and doesn't believe anything will come of the federal inquiry. Tensing, who was fired by UC shortly after shooting DuBose, is currently working for his family, Mathews says.

DuBose’s shooting followed a heavy uptick in hiring of police officers and stops made by those officers at UC. The school doubled the 35 officers it had in 2013 to 70 in just a year and a half. It’s now the third-largest law enforcement agency in the county behind the Cincinnati Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

With that increased enforcement came huge racial disparities.

Traffic stops went up 300 percent to 2,000 in 2015. Arrests also tripled. During this time, stops of white individuals actually decreased. Black stops went way up, however. Tickets written by Tensing in the year before he shot DuBose went to blacks 81 percent of the time. The department’s average was 62 percent. The student body on UC’s campus is only 8 percent black. Corryville, the neighborhood directly east of the university, is 38 percent black. Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairmount, collectively called CUF and to the south and east of the university, are about 17 percent black. Mount Auburn, where DuBose was killed, is about 67 percent black.

DuBose’s family and activists say DuBose was unjustly vilified during the trial for his lifestyle and for the presence of marijuana in his car during the traffic stop. Tensing was unaware that the marijuana was present at the time of the stop.

Tensing saw DuBose’s car was missing a front license plate, found the car’s owner, DuBose’s girlfriend, had a suspended license, and pulled DuBose over. DuBose refused to exit the vehicle, after which Tensing reached in. DuBose made a motion to start the car and Tensing shot him within a split second of the vehicle moving, according to video analysis from an expert prosecution witness.

Activists with the Countdown to Conviction Coalition, made up of faith group the Amos Project, Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, UC groups like Students for Survivors and others met later that evening to plan protests against the decision.The Coalition will rally Saturday at Fountain Square at 5 p.m.

Elected officials, including Cincinnati City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Yvette Simpson and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, decried the decision, saying justice hasn't been served.

"Sam DuBose’s family deserved justice today," Simpson said in a news release. "Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ decision leaves unresolved a long and difficult chapter for our city. This case gives weight to the growing national cry for greater accountability in our justice system. We are hopeful that the U.S. Attorney's Office decides to bring Section 1983 charges. DuBose family deserves better, we deserve better. Justice must apply equally to everyone."

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