A former Ohio police officer who shot an unarmed Black man in the head during a traffic stop will not be charged federally. The U.S. Department of Justice said it did not believe it could successfully take Ray Tensing to trial for shooting Sam DuBose on July 19, 2015, because federal prosecutors did not believe they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any federal crime had occurred.
Federal civil rights statutes require the Department of Justice “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt unanimously to a jury of twelve that a defendant willfully used unreasonable force with the specific intent of violating a victim’s constitutional rights,” the DOJ said in a brief statement published Friday.
“To establish willfulness beyond a reasonable doubt, federal authorities would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the former officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the statement continued. “This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law.”
Tensing, then an officer for the University of Cincinnati, pulled over DuBose in an off-campus traffic stop for not having a license plate attached to the front of his car. The stop ended in tragedy, with Tensing shooting DuBose in the head at point-black range. As seen on body cam video, Tensing tried to opening the car door after DuBose did not produce a driver’s license. DuBose reached out through the open window and tried to keep the officer from opening the door. That’s when the shooting happened.
Tensing “should have never been a police officer,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters (R) said at the time. “He wasn’t dealing with someone who was wanted for murder. He was dealing with someone who didn’t have a front license plate. I mean, this is, in the vernacular, a pretty chicken-crap stop.”
Tensing was fired and indicted on state-level murder and voluntary manslaughter charges. Juries in two local trials had trouble reaching a consensus. Both sets of jurors deadlocked, and mistrials resulted. Tensing maintained he was acting in self-defense, with DuBose dragging him off. He had written that his hand and arm got tangled up in the steering wheel as DuBose was driving off, but prosecutors maintained that Tensing’s body camera video showed a different story.
“At that time, that was what I believed was happening,” he said during cross-examination in 2016. “That my arm was somehow caught in or around that steering wheel as he was taking off.”
“I have come to the conclusion that we cannot win a trial in this case,” Deters said in 2017 while declining to seek a third trial. Instead, he asked the Department of Justice to seek federal charges.
That process came to an end on Friday with the DOJ’s declination to do so.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.
“I think they made the right decision, and Ray and I are glad that it’s finally over with,” Tensing attorney Stew Mathews told Law&Crime in a brief phone interview.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network and Court Chatter]
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