The Unjust Killing of Sam DuBose and A Lawyer’s Perspective

*Originally published on RYOT.org in July 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

On July 19, Sam DuBose was killed by a University of Cincinnati Police Officer at a routine traffic stop. The killing was caught on camera by Officer Ray Tensing’s personal body camera. The graphic video of the traffic stop and killing can be seen here:

After the suicide of Sandra Bland, we asked our resident lawyer friend Austin Lucas, an attorney in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to give tips on everyone’s rights at a traffic stop. In the case of Sandra Bland her rights seemed to have been violated. We asked Attorney Lucas to give a take on the killing of Sam DuBose. Here’s what he had to say:

“The murder of Sam DuBose is one of the most heinous acts I have ever seen, let alone by a cop who is granted extra authority.  From a purely legal standpoint, the cop had a legitimate reason for stopping Mr. DuBose, lacking a front license plate in Ohio. He even had a legitimate reason for being suspicious that he may have had a suspended license.  He, however, did not have cause to attempt to enter Mr. DuBose’s car and it should also be noted that he never asked Mr. DuBose to exit the vehicle, which he would have been entitled to do.  It is also without a doubt that he did not have cause for drawing his weapon or firing.  That is why is he is properly being charged for an intentional killing.

It is encouraging to see that the Prosecution was so swift to act and indict Officer Tensing for murder.  A common expression is that “a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich” but with recent national instances like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it seemed more difficult to indict a cop.  It also must be noted the outstanding impact that having a body camera had on this matter.  Personally, I believe this is a measure that needs to be adopted nationwide, in hopes that it will hold police accountable and thereby alter police behavior but also act as evidence after-the-fact for instances such as this.  In this case, Officer Tensing’s personal account of the incident varied greatly from the reality and the graphic nature of the video has helped strengthen the prosecution’s case.  Police are given so much deference that when Officer Tensing claimed that Mr. DuBose tried to escape in his vehicle and run him over, he would have been believed if not for his powerful footage.

What this incident really speaks to is the lack of human recognition that Officer Ray Tensing had for Sam DuBose.  His very first instinct was to draw his weapon and fatally discharge it.  He took the life of another human being, when his was in no way threatened.  The most extreme example of police brutality and excessive force I have ever seen.  This attitude is hard to quantify but it is there.  It is a result of failing to properly train cops and failing to police your community as one of its citizens, but rather as an overlord.”

Officer Ray Tensing is being charged with the murder of Sam DuBose. Today, he pleaded not guilty to the charge and placed on a $1 million bond. Tensing is facing 15 to life, if charged.

Cop

Ray Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, shown Wednesday in his booking photo. (Photo: Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office)

The family and community are upset and displeased with the death of DuBose but do not expect another Ferguson-type outbreak because the community is thankful for the accountability the city has taken against this injustice.

“There should be no unrest. There’s unrest when people feel like they’re not being heard,” Bishop Bobby Hilton, of the Word Deliverance Church in Forest Park said. “What more can you ask for? As terrible as it is, it should be a proud moment for our community. We can prove that we can take the most horrible incident and show the world how our community reacts and becomes better.”

Hopefully, there will be no unrest in the community, but there needs to be actions taking to reforming the way police interact with civilians. Of course this should come with a disclaimer that not all police officers are racist and a large percentage take pride in their job and perform their job well. However, they are given a bad name because of officers like Tensing who use the policy of “shoot first, ask questions later.” These reforms need to take place now before any more people lose their lives. This particular case will likely increase the nationwide desire for personal cameras on all officers, as Austin Lucas points out. Other potential measures should be investigated like non-lethal weapons like tasers, pepper spray, or even rubber bullets.

“I want everybody to just lift up their heads in prayer, and thank God because this one did not go unsolved and hidden. We’re going to continue to fight together with God,” said Sam’s mother Audrey DuBose.

Samuel-Dubose-2

The casket of Samuel Dubose is transported to a hearse during his funeral at the Church of the Living God in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, Tuesday, July 28, 2015. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

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