A jury deadlocked Friday in the case of a former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man during a 2015 traffic stop, the latest in a series of high-profile law enforcement shootings that spurred charges but not convictions.
The Associated Press reported that Judge Leslie Ghiz declared a mistrial after the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked.
The mistrial arrived just days after officers were acquitted of deadly shootings in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and it concluded the second trial of Raymond Tensing, who was charged with murder after fatally shooting Samuel DuBose during a routine traffic stop in July 2015.
A jury deadlocked in Tensing’s first trial in November, and Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters quickly vowed to retry him, saying he hoped that another jury would “be able to reach a decision to bring justice in this case for the victim’s family and our community.”
Deters had assailed Tensing for what he called a “senseless, asinine shooting,” which occurred not far from the University of Cincinnati campus where Tensing worked as an officer.
Tensing, who was later fired by the university, stopped DuBose on the evening of July 19. According to the initial police report, Tensing had described being forced to shoot DuBose because he was being dragged by the car and nearly run over, which Deters said was untrue.
Like the cases in Wisconsin and Minnesota that recently ended with acquittals, DuBose’s death was captured on video. Footage from Tensing’s body camera, released the day he was arrested and charged, showed that the fatal encounter unfolded in less than two minutes.
During the stop, Tensing asked DuBose, 43, to take off his seat belt, and DuBose is seen turning on the ignition. Tensing is then seen reaching toward the door, yelling “Stop!” and shoving his gun into the car window, firing a single round into DuBose’s head.
The graphic body-camera footage joined a macabre library of other videos showing fatal police shootings across the country. While many other recordings that spread widely on social media were captured by bystanders or police dashboard cameras, some of them recorded from a distance, the Tensing case was unusual in that the footage effectively showed the officer’s perspective.
As the traffic stop began, Tensing greeted DuBose: “Hey, how’s it going, man?” The officer explained that DuBose was stopped for not displaying a front license plate on his green Honda Accord, and asked multiple times for DuBose’s license. DuBose eventually said he did not have it with him.
Tensing then asked DuBose to take off his seat belt. DuBose said he had not done anything wrong and appeared to turn the car back on, at which point Tensing drew his gun. After Tensing fired the fatal shot, the car lurched forward and eventually came to a stop down the street, while Tensing ran after it, shouting to a dispatcher that medical attention was needed.
Announcing the charge against Tensing during a news conference 10 days later, Deters said that his office had reviewed more than 100 police shootings and “this is the first time that we’ve thought, ‘This is without question a murder.’ ”
An attorney for Tensing had dismissed the murder charge as “unwarranted” and said he felt charges were likely due to “the political climate here and nationally.” The attorney also said Tensing “was in fear of his life” when he opened fire.
After the second hung jury was announced Friday, Cincinnati city officials said they were disappointed with the decision but called on anyone who protests to do so peacefully.
“I, like so many others, share in the disappointment in the outcome from today’s jury,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said at a news briefing.
Police officers are rarely charged for fatal shootings or other uses of deadly force, and convictions are less common.
Since the beginning of 2005, 82 nonfederal law enforcement officers have been arrested after being accused of murder or manslaughter in connection with fatal on-duty shootings, said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who studies arrests of officers and has kept data since that year.
From that count, 29 have been convicted of a crime, mostly on lesser offenses, Stinson said. More officers — 34 — were not convicted, largely due to acquittals. Tensing was among 19 officers with cases pending.
The heightened scrutiny of police shootings and other uses of force has flared up after the deaths of black men, women and boys in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, New York, Baton Rouge, Cleveland, Seattle and San Francisco. In recent years, the number of officers prosecuted in fatal shootings has increased, which experts attribute to a combination of more video evidence as well as political pressure.
Prosecutions following these high-profile incidents have largely ended without convictions. In South Carolina, former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was charged with murder after being recorded shooting a fleeing Walter Scott. A jury in that case deadlocked and a mistrial was declared; Slager later pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge stemming from the shooting, resolving both cases. Betty Shelby, an Oklahoma police officer who shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, in another traffic stop caught on camera, was acquitted by a jury last month.
Tensing’s is the third trial involving a fatal shooting following a traffic stop that concluded in the last week. On Wednesday, a jury acquitted Dominique Heaggan-Brown, a former Milwaukee police officer, on a count of homicide for his fatal shooting of Sylville Smith last year, which set off intense protests.
Five days earlier, former Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of fatally shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year that was partially streamed online. The aftermath of that shooting was broadcast on Facebook Live, drawing international attention.
Authorities earlier this week released dashboard-camera video footage showing the officer shooting Castile, a recording that was shown during Yanez’s trial but had not been released publicly.
Experts caution that even though video footage can be horrifying, such recordings may be incomplete, and noted that the legal standard still remains whether an officer’s actions were “objectively reasonable” at the time.
“Video may give us some insight on that, but it doesn’t change the fundamental standard by which police actions using force are judged,” said David A. Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on police use of force. “Whether you think it’s right or wrong, that standard is favorable to the police. It tends to support their actions in the great run of cases.”
— Ally Kraemer (@AllyKraemer) June 23, 2017
Harris also said that juries tend to come in giving officers “the benefit of the doubt” in most cases.
“Video is not a magic solution to this,” he said. “Sometimes, it will be very helpful. and sometimes it will put certain facts, even if not all the facts, but certain facts beyond dispute. But many times, it does not put enough of the facts beyond dispute … You add that to the favorable nature of the law and the fact that jurors tend to, as a group, start with sympathy for the police position and what you have is a situation where it’s really tough for prosecutors to win those criminal cases.”
This story, first published at 2:28 p.m., has been updated with new information.