CHICAGO, USA – A white Ohio policeman who shot a black man during a routine traffic stop pleaded not guilty to murder charges Thursday, July 30, as two of his colleagues were suspended.
The family of Sam DuBose, 43, has said he would have been dismissed as just "one other stereotype" of a violent black man were it not for a body camera video which showed DuBose did nothing to justify the shooting.
The case comes as the United States grapples with heightened racial tensions in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents of unarmed African Americans being killed by police in disputed circumstances.
It has also raised concerns about the so-called 'blue wall of silence' which prevents police who commit misdeeds from being caught because their colleagues will either not report them or cover for them.
University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing told investigators that he opened fire out of fear for his life after DuBose tried to drive away and dragged the officer along with him.
One of the officers who responded to the shooting said he saw Tensing being dragged, according to an initial police report.
But prosecutors said a review of the footage showed Tensing was never in danger during the July 19 incident and only hit the ground after he fired the deadly shot.
Two of the responding officers were "placed on paid administrative leave because an internal investigation is now underway," a spokeswoman for the university told AFP.
The bodycam video shows Tensing approach the car and ask DuBose for his license and registration.
DuBose calmly asks why he was pulled over and eventually tells Tensing that he left his license at home.
Then, less than two minutes into the exchange, DuBose reaches for the keys and Tensing can be heard shouting "STOP! STOP!"
In the blink of an eye, a gun pops into view and DuBose slumps over in his seat. The video bounces as Tensing chases after the car as it rolls down the street.
DuBose died instantly, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said.
"It's incredible. And so senseless," Deters said while announcing the charges Wednesday.
"I think he lost his temper because Mr DuBose wouldn't get out of his vehicle."
Deters questioned why Tensing bothered to try to stop DuBose from leaving in the first place.
"He wasn't dealing with someone who was wanted for murder – he was dealing with someone with a missing license plate," he told reporters.
"This is in the vernacular a pretty 'chicken crap' stop. If he started rolling away, seriously, let him go. You don't have to shoot him in the head."
Deters also said the university should hand policing duties over to the city.
Three other black men have died in altercations with campus police officers since 1997, according to records obtained by BuzzFeed.
Two of the men were mentally ill and one died while seeking treatment in the university's hospital. The third died after officers fired a Taser at him.
While the university paid out nearly $3 million to settle civil claims related to their deaths, no criminal charges were laid, BuzzFeed reported.
The city's police union objected to the way Deters and other local politicians responded to the incident.
"People who watch an encounter on video using the slow motion setting to determine what happened have a luxury that police on the street don't," Bruce Szilagyi, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement Thursday.
"We make split second decisions. Some are right, some are wrong. But all of our decisions are made with an eye toward protecting the public and ourselves."
A judge set a $1 million bond for Tensing at a brief hearing broadcast on television.
Tensing, 25, said little as he stood before the court in handcuffs and prison stripes.
He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, a US lawmaker, noting that the body camera worn by the officer helped investigators pin down the events the led to the shooting, introduced legislation Thursday to make them standard equipment in police departments across the country.
"Those of us who viewed the video watched in disbelief as the officer shot the driver in the head," said Senator Tim Scott, a black Republican from South Carolina, in a speech on the floor of the chamber.
"Difficult," he said. "Difficult video to watch." – Mira Oberman, AFP/Rappler.com