On July 19, just 10 days ago, UC police officer Ray Tensing shot and killed motorist Sam DuBose in the course of a traffic stop, according to reports by CNN and others. Today, prosecutor Joe Deters announced that Officer Tensing had been indicted for murder in the killing.

The silver lining for bloggers everywhere is that much of the event was captured by Officer Tensing’s body-cam. You can watch the full video here, but I have relevant portions reproduced in slow-motion and relevant screen captures below, as well.

Officer Tensing claims that he shot DuBose because the driver began dragging the officer with his car. Certainly, dragging someone with your car is conduct likely to cause death or grave bodily harm, and thus warrants the use of deadly force in self-defense.

Indeed, there is corroborating evidence that this dragging occurred. Screen captures from the officer’s body cam clearly show that his patrol car in the background was more distant in later images than in earlier images. (The following timestamps refer to the video above.)

Sam DuBose F. 1.54

[1:54]

[1:56]

[1.56]

Note also the span of time we’re talking about–a mere two seconds.

In addition, witnessing police officers attested to the dragging of officer Tensing, as documented in the police incident reported (embedded at the bottom of this post).  In particular, Officer Phillip Kidd stated that “he witnessed the Honda Accord drag Officer Tensing,” and Officer Eric Weibel, who produced the incident report, noted that:

After speaking with Officer Tensing, he complained of pain to his left arm. Officer Maxwell was on scene and was instructed to stay with Officer Tensing until CFD could evaluate his injury. Looking at Officer Tensing’s uniform, I could see that the back of his pants and shirt looked as if it had been dragged over a rough surface.

So that’s all evidence favorable to Tensing.

Now let’s take a more critical look at the video.

Before we do, however, it’s worth noting that a few oddities leap out from between the lines of the news reports I’ve seen, indeed from the lines of the reporting itself.

One is the speed of the indictment–ten days from shooting to indictment strikes me as remarkably fast.

Second is the somewhat strange conduct of Prosecutor Deters in this case.  WCPO news reports that in reference to Officer Tensing pulling DuBose over for his failure to have a front license plate on the car he was driving, Deters argues that the stop itself should never have happened, and indeed Deters reportedly characterizes it as “a chicken-shit stop.

It leaves one to wonder how traffic cops are supposed to know which of the laws passed by their superiors are “legitimate” and thus worthy of a traffic stop when violated, and which are “chicken-shit.”

It’s also notable that once again the groundwork for violence during a traffic stop was laid by the outright non-compliance of the suspect, here Sam DuBose.  Once stopped it turns out that DuBose is driving without a license, that apparently the car is not his but “my sister’s” (although the audio is hard to hear at that point), and that he’s driving with a pint of gin at his feet (although to my eyes the bottle appears full and as yet unopened).

Further, DuBose is persistently unresponsive to Tensing’s repeated inquiry as to whether DuBose has a license on him, taking a full minute-and-a-half to finally concede that he doesn’t have his license on him.  DuBose also claims to know the traffic laws better than the officer, which while certainly possible would seem unlikely, and in any case unproductive during the stop itself.

Finally, when Tensing asks DuBose to step out the vehicle, which the officer is fully authorized to do, especially now that DuBose has conceded he is driving without his license on him, DuBose grabs the car doors and pulls it shut after Tensing has begun to open it.  Thus DuBose becomes physically non-compliant to Tensing’s lawful orders.  This, of course,  warrants Tensing’s escalating his use of force to compel compliance.

Have we seen this movie before?

It’s at this point, of course, is where things begin to go off the rails. I’ve created a slow-motion version of that relevant portion of the video. All time-stamp references made henceforth are to this particular video clip:

Even in slow motion, however, the clip can be difficult to analyze, so I’ve included some screen captures as well.

One difficulty for Tensing’s narrative of innocence–that when he fired the shot he was in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm–is that the video does not appear to show the car moving until the shot has already been fired.

Here’s a screen cap at 7:06.  Note the truck in the left-hand background of the image.

[7:06]

[7:06]

Here’s another screen capture, at 16:13, which appears to be the moment the shot is fired into DuBose’s head (you can see his head snap back if you watch the video frame-by-frame), and you can still see that same truck in the same position:

[16:13]

[16:13]

This would suggest that perhaps the car moving and the dragging of Officer Tensing might not have occurred until after the killing shot was fired.

Now, it must be said that this is not decisive on the issue of whether Tensing’s shot was lawfully justified.  One is permitted to use force to defend against an imminent attack, one is not required to wait until one has actually suffered the threatened injury.

Was there a rational basis on which Tensing could conclude that he was about to be dragged by DuBose?  A revving engine, a shift from park to drive, something along those lines?  And note, again, the rapidity with which everything physical happened, a mere two seconds.  The jury will be instructed to judge the officer’s perceptions, decisions, and actions not in a purely objective matter but while also taking into account the circumstances as the officer reasonably perceived them to be.

OK, I’m out of time for further analysis.  But I do know one thing for certain.

There are some video analysis expert witnesses who are going to be driving nicer cars after this trial than they were before.

And promised, here’s that police incident report:

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Attorney Andrew Branca and his firm Law of Self Defense have been providing internationally-recognized expertise in American self-defense law for almost 20 years in the form of blogging, books, live seminars & online training (both accredited for CLE), public speaking engagements, and individualized legal consultation.
“Law of Self Defense, 2nd Ed.” / Seminars / Seminar Slides / Twitter / Facebook / Youtube