On Wednesday, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, 25, was indicted on a murder charge for the death of Sam DuBose, an unarmed 43-year-old African-American man. The killing of DuBose is unfortunately another disturbing episode of police brutality against African Americans this year that have almost all been followed by suspicious, hotly challenged police statements. Police officers released a report recounting the events that ensued, but Tensing's police report starkly contrasted what his bodycam captured. The New York Times reported that Hamilton County prosecuting attorney, Joseph T. Deters, described the newly-released bodycam footage as "crucial evidence" that Tensing had lied about being "dragged" by DuBose's car. Comparing the footage to the police report only heeds more discrepancies.
In the first paragraph of the police report written by officer officer Eric Weibel, Weibel recounted:
Officer Tensing stated he was attempting a traffic stop (No front license plate) when at some point, he began to be dragged by a male black driver. ... Officer Tensing stated that he was almost run over by the driver of the Honda Accord, and was forced to shoot the driver with his duty weapon. ... Officer Tensing repeated that he was dragged by the vehicle and had to fire his weapon.
This narrative differs dramatically from what transpires in the video. As Deters pointed out, the vehicle only began to move after Tensing had already shot DuBose in the head. After Tensing asked DuBose to remove his seat belt, DuBose "put one hand on the car window and the other on the key in the ignition," Gawker reported, and seconds later, Tensing shot him once — fatally — in the head. At the moment Tensing shot the unarmed black man, both of DuBose's hands had been up. DuBose's vehicle does not appear to have dragged Tensing at all. The prosecution expanded on the reality captured by the video, stating:
It is our belief that he was not dragged. If you slow down this tape you see what happens, it is a very slow period of time from when the car starts rolling to when a gun is out and he's shot in the head.
The footage seems to show that the car only began to accelerate after DuBose had died. Deters stated that "[DuBose's] foot must have pressed on the gas" after Tensing fired, and even then, the car did not "drag" Tensing.
Officer Tensing's behavior was troubling to say the least, but almost equally troubling are the lies another white police officer was willing to tell in Tensing's defense. Weibel's report states:
Officer Kidd told me that he witnessed the Honda Accord drag Officer Tensing, and that he witnessed Officer Tensing fire a single shot.
The police report also reveals that Tensing claimed to be injured after being "dragged" by DuBose's car. However, the prosecution remarked that Tensing was injured only after falling back upon shooting DuBose. "No, he wasn't dragged. He fell backwards after he shot him in the head," Deters argued. The New York Times reported that Tensing was defended again by fellow police officers, who were recorded corroborating Tensing's statements that his injuries had been caused by DuBose.
The most concerning discrepancy between Tensing's version of events and what the video reveals is the sense of urgency that the officer's narrative gives off. "He wasn't dealing with somebody who was wanted for murder. He was dealing with somebody who didn’t have a front license plate," Deters pointed out. Tensing explicitly stated that DuBose's behavior had "forced" Tensing to shoot him, and yet it's worth noting that in the video, DuBose's hands are up as he is shot in the head.
Beyond the contrasting information provided by the police report and the video, there's also plenty of contrasting statements given by police officers. As previously mentioned, some officers stood by Tensing's version of events, and affirmed that his injuries had been inflicted upon him by DuBose. Also, the day after DuBose was killed, University of Cincinnati police chief Jason Goodrich stated that DuBose had handed Tensing a "bottle of alcohol from inside the car" after Tensing had asked the driver for his license. However, as the video demonstrates, DuBose had merely been cooperating with Tensing's explicit request not for his license, but for the bottle. It's difficult to tell what this lie was meant to achieve.
DuBose's death is tragic, even more so for his family. However, both his mother and his sister have expressed optimism and even gratitude regarding police body cameras. "I'm so thankful that everything was uncovered," DuBose’s mother, Audrey, said at a separate news conference. “I thought it was going to be covered up.” The Times reports that Terina Allen, a sister of DuBose, said, "Every day now, I’m going to be marching for video cams." According to the newspaper, the family believes that had it not been for the body camera footage, "[Officer Tensing's] story would have been accepted, and he would have gone unpunished."
DuBose's family members aren't the only people who view DuBose's unfortunate death as a victory for the cause of police body cameras. "If we didn’t have a video, I do not believe we would have had an indictment," Mark O'Mara, a lawyer representing DuBose's family, stated. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley shares O'Mara's views, stating, "[T]his case is going to help the cause of body cameras across the country."
When asked if he believed there would have been a prosecution had the events not been caught on video, Deters replied, "I think it’s a good idea for police to wear them ... [b]ecause nine times out of 10 it clears them of wrongdoing. And in this case, it obviously led to an indictment for murder."
Recently, the racially charged behavior of some police officers across the country and subsequent, dishonest statements by perpetrators and their fellow officers are fairly strong indicators that police officers can't always be trusted. Police body cameras will contribute immeasurably to obtaining justice for victims' families, but unfortunately, body camera footage can hardly undo the damage that will already have been done.
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