An Ohio prosecutor is refusing to release body camera video from the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man during a traffic stop — but top officials are suggesting that the video disputes the campus police officer’s claims of self-defense.
Officer Ray Tensing, of the University of Cincinnati police department, shot and killed 43-year-old Sam Dubose during a routine traffic stop July 19 near campus.
Tensing stopped Dubose about 6:30 p.m. because he did not have a license plate on the front of his car, in apparent violation of Ohio law, about a half-mile from campus in Cincinnati’s historic Mount Auburn neighborhood.
The officer claims Dubose would not show his driver’s license and instead produced a bottle of alcohol and refused to get out of his vehicle.
Tensing told 911 dispatchers that he fired one shot, fatally striking Dubose in the head, because he was “almost run over” during the traffic stop, but the officer said in the incident report that he was “dragged” by the vehicle.
Multiple media outlets have sued Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters to force the release of body cam video of the incident recorded by Tensing — but the prosecutor flatly stated that he would not do so without a court order until he has presented the case to a grand jury, which could happen this week.
“Unless I’m ordered to by the Ohio Supreme Court, and I doubt I will be, they’re not going to get it,” Deters said.
But Cincinnati’s police chief said he had seen the video, and he said “the video is not good.”
“It’s not a good situation, I think that’s clear, and it will become evident once that video is shown,” said Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, of Cincinnati police. “We’re just trying to do our best to be prepared for whatever might come out of it.”
The city manager said he had not seen the video, but he told WLWT-TV that the contents had been described to him.
“It was not a good situation,” said City Manager Harry Black. “Someone has died that didn’t necessarily have to die, and I will leave it at that.”
The University of Cincinnati has suspended off-campus police stops and will hire an independent external reviewer to examine the campus police department’s policies, procedures and practices.
Dubose’s family has hired attorney Mark O’Mara, who defended George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
“The family wants two things,” O’Mara said. “First, they want dignity for themselves and for Sam and his death, and they want transparency. They want to know what happened to what happened to him — first the ‘what’ and then the ‘why.'”
The pastor who will conduct funeral services Tuesday said Dubose’s family hoped to avoid the unrest that followed the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man in 2001.
“To quote the family, ‘We don’t want another Timothy Thomas situation,'” said Pastor Ennis Tait, of the Church of the Living God. “They’ve said that and that’s their heart. They don’t want the city to be turned upside down and that issue to be attached to their brother’s life.”
The pastor, as city officials did, pointed out the reforms imposed on Cincinnati police by the U.S. Department of Justice following the riots 14 years ago.
“One of the major goals is that we don’t repeat 2001,” said Tait. “This incident has that potential, and our goal is to make sure it doesn’t reach that level.”
The prosecutor has stopped speaking with most local media, citing their lawsuits against him, but he told WLW-AM host Bill Cunningham that he has prosecuted police officers before.
“I’m not talking about this particular case, but if there’s a bad cop, the cops want him removed, OK?” Deters said. “They would give everybody a bad name. Nobody’s protecting anybody in this case.”
He blasted state Sen. Cecil Thomas, a former Cincinnati police officer and city councilman, for describing a “groundswell of anger” among community members.
“I think those comments are reckless,” Deters said. “People need to let the system work and let the chips fall where they may.”
Watch this video report posted online by WLWT-TV: