And another routine traffic stop ends in death

As if Sandra Bland’s death in the jail where she ended up following a traffic stop for not signaling while changing lanes was not bad enough, now a police officer in Cincinnati Ray Tensing has been indicted for murder following the death of an unarmed black man Samuel DuBose at another routine traffic stop, this time for lacking a front license plate, something that the state of Ohio requires but not all states do. It turned out that DuBose was not carrying a driving license either but he claimed that he had it. What is clear that neither of these facts should have ever resulted in a shooting, even if DuBose was trying to leave the scene without Tensing’s permission. There is no excuse for shooting someone who is not posing a threat to the police or is a potential threat to others.

NPR had a report analyzing the body camera video where they point out that moments after the shooting, Tensing significantly changed his story when recounting it to other officers who arrived on the scene.

What I found interesting is that even though he was wearing a body camera, Tensing still filed a false report and two other officers were willing to corroborate that false report even though they too were at the scene and were wearing body cameras. The Guardian has synced the three videos and you can see the three views simultaneously on a split screen.

And now a new report emerges that those same two officers were involved in the suspicious death of an unarmed mentally ill black man in 2010. All this provides further evidence that rewriting the record to justify their actions and blame the victim is something that police do routinely for each other.

So once again, we have a situation where it was the existence of video that produced evidence that resulted in action being taken against the police officer. In the absence of the video, that false police report would have been taken as conclusive and the shooting would have been deemed justified.

While Joe Deters, the prosecutor in this case, was quick to indict Tensing as a result of what the video revealed, and condemned his behavior in harsh terms, he also went out of his way to suggest that this was an extremely unusual event.

The prosecutor released the video footage during his press conference and the shooting the most “asinine” thing he’s ever seen a law enforcement officer do.

“I think he lost his temper because Mr. DuBose wouldn’t get out of his car. When you see this, you will not believe how quickly he pulls his gun and shoots him. It’s so senseless,” Deters said.

“I feel so sorry for his family and what they lost and I feel sorry for the community, too, because we’ve worked so hard to develop great police relationships with the community and to have this type of a senseless act take place in Cincinnati. This doesn’t happen in the United States, OK? This might happen in Afghanistan or somewhere. This just does not happen in the United States.”

Sorry Mr. Deters, your assertion of higher standards and American exceptionalism just doesn’t hold water. This happens all the time in America! Don’t you follow the news? Even the news about your own city?

Police rarely face criminal charges for use of force. Only three local ones have been charged since 2001.

Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach, 27, shot and killed unarmed and fleeing Timothy Thomas, 19, who was wanted on several misdemeanors, in Over-the-Rhine in April 2001.

The shooting sparked Cincinnati’s worst racial unrest in three decades.

Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors, and was acquitted in a bench trial.

He quit the Cincinnati Police Department in 2002 and began working for Evendale police, where he remains employed.

In January 2001, Cincinnati Police Officers Robert “Blaine” Jorg, 28, and Patrick Caton, 34, were indicted in connection with Roger Owensby’s death.

Jorg was charged with misdemeanor assault and involuntary manslaughter. Caton was charged with assaulting Owensby.

Owensby, 29, died in police custody shortly after his arrest on Nov. 7, 2000. Although there was no warrant for his arrest, he was questioned outside a Roselawn convenience store and initially cooperated with police officers.

Police say Owensby tried to run and was tackled by several officers. He was struck several times, forced to the ground and handcuffed.

The coroner later determined Owensby died of asphyxiation.

Later that year, Jorg and Caton were acquitted on the assault charges.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict in the involuntary manslaughter charge, resulting in a mistrial.

Who knows what the truth of the earlier deaths of Thomas and Owensby was? And these were the only cases where police officers were even indicted. Who knows how many cases never even got that far as having the police charged because the police reports are taken at face value?

Where will this all end? It would be nice to think that the heightened awareness of police abuses and the presence of cameras will result in police seriously re-thinking and changing the way they deal with the public. But I fear that police behavior will not change of its own accord. They may instead become more savvy about finding ways to suppress the video record or learn how to write reports that are still false but not obviously contradicted by the video.

But what will really bring about change is if cities have to repeatedly pay out millions of dollars to victims’ families as a result of lawsuits, like the way New York City paid $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner.

Ultimately it is money that talks loudest.


  1. says

    Another (admittedly much narrower) question to ask is, why were university cops doing traffic stops at all? Isn’t that the municipal cops’ job? Universities have their own police forces to deal with university-specific issues, such as protecting university assets, policing student events, and dealing with security concerns more specific to students and university staff.

  2. Drew says

    But what will really bring about change is if cities have to repeatedly pay out millions of dollars to victims’ families as a result of lawsuits, like the way New York City paid $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner.

    I think you’re wrong here. Because it’s the cities’ insurers who pay out the settlements, not the cities themselves. The only way to bring about change is to make it so that the officers can be sued independently for particularly egregious actions. Making the individuals who perpetrate the crimes financially responsible for (at least a portion of) the damages is the only way to stop this behavior.

  3. daved says

    @2: I don’t agree with you here. Saying that it’s the insurers who pay skips over the fact that the cities have to pay the premiums. And those premiums are going to skyrocket in cities that have a bunch of incidents like these. They’ll have to crack down or go broke.

  4. EigenSprocketUK says

    @RagingBee #1 (university cops being relieved of traffic stops) -- consider the idea that Universities should not have ‘cops’ in the first place. Maybe just a few unarmed guards to deal with the low-level misdemeanours that come with student life.
    But if you need bored-but-adrenaline-soaked, lethally-armed, poorly-trained thugs to come on to campus to shoot someone in the head / back for running away and to lie about it, then call the cops. Sorry, that’s just my angry and shocked sarcasm: I realise that USA has some strange rules about tiny places having tiny police forces for …reasons that no longer make any sense at all.

  5. says

    daved: your right about insurance and premiums — but either way, I see ZERO evidence that any of these big-money settlements have any influence on the voters, who keep on re-electing officials, who keep on supporting police misconduct because “tough on crime.” Has any state or local official lost an election to an opponent who made an issue of costly settlements draining public revenues?

  6. daved says

    @5: good question. Unfortunately, you don’t usually see an elected official’s feet being held to the fire over this. Instead, the blame goes to, say, the police chief, who may well have been appointed by a previous administration. I don’t think we’ve seen this as a campaign issue, though I would not be surprised to see that change over the next few years if costly settlements are involved, especially in smaller communities. New York City can absorb these multi-million dollar settlements. Small towns cannot.

  7. says

    @5: good question. Unfortunately, you don’t usually see an elected official’s feet being held to the fire over this.

    That’s my point: what is it about the political climate in the US that politicians don’t feel they can use this as a campaign issue? This is a big country with lots of counties, towns and cities — someone somewhere should have figured it would be a good campaign strategy.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Raging Bee @#1,

    Who has jurisdiction over what can be complicated. For example, my university has its own police force. The university campus is located in a part of the city called University Circle that encompasses the campus and surrounding areas. University Circle has its police force. This whole area is located in the city of Cleveland which of course has its police force.

    So when something happens on any of the streets that run through the campus, all three forces have jurisdiction. Whoever arrives first on the scene takes action but they can call upon each other for reinforcements.

    Why does the university have a police force at all? I don’t know. They used to be called campus security but got changed to a police force some years ago.

  9. dannorth says

    Beyond the strangeness of having universities with police forces wouldn’t make more financial sense for money strapped universities to have less expensive security guards?

    Unless, of course, the fines levied by said police force returns to the university. In which case the problem is one of law enforcement as a financial resource.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *