CINCINNATI (CN) – Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing took the witness stand in his own defense Friday, facing an intense cross-examination about his fatal shooting of unarmed black man Samuel DuBose.
Tensing shot and killed DuBose in July 2015, but his first trial ended in a hung jury. His retrial on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter started last week.
Defense attorney Stew Mathews began by questioning Tensing about his employment history, which began with the Green Hills Police Department while he was in college.
After he withdrew from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy, Tensing was hired by the University of Cincinnati, along with a number of officers, to help combat “a large problem with crime around the UC campus,” according to Tensing.
Mathews then showed the jury bodycam footage of several traffic stops made by Tensing before his encounter with DuBose, all of which involved black drivers.
In one of the stops, Tensing encountered a black driver with a suspended license and five outstanding warrants.
The footage showed Tensing loosening handcuffs and turning up the air conditioning in his police cruiser to make the man more comfortable, and also allowing a third party to pick up the man’s vehicle to avoid a tow.
Tensing also decided to re-cite the driver instead of taking him to the justice center.
The incident, used by the defense to humanize Tensing and reduce the appearance of any racial bias on the officer’s part, occurred a few hours before Tensing pulled over DuBose.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Seth Tieger asked Tensing about the stops he made that day, and whether they were racially motivated.
“Are you saying it’s a coincidence that everyone you stopped was African-American?” Tieger asked.
“Yes,” Tensing answered.
Tieger wanted to continue the line of questioning, and asked if it was true that Tensing had the highest racial arrest disparity among all UC police officers, but Mathews quickly objected.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz sustained the objection and called the attorneys up for a sidebar, after which Tieger switched tactics and questioned Tensing about his employment history.
Tensing became visibly upset when asked to describe the DuBose traffic stop, which the officer claimed “sent up a red flag for me … [because] the driver was not complying.”
DuBose refused to provide a driver’s license for Tensing, and then pulled his door shut when the officer tried to open it and remove the keys from the ignition.
“I thought I had a very good chance to reach in and turn the car off,” Tensing said on Friday. “I thought I could stop a pursuit right there before it happened. I reached in … and that’s when, in just a fluid motion, he turned the car on, went down to the center console and shifted his car from park and just put it into drive, extremely fast. He just mashed the accelerator to the floor at that point.”
Tensing began crying after that portion of his testimony, and said he was sorry before continuing on to describe the shooting.
“At that point, I thought my arm became trapped … in the steering wheel, because my arm felt pinned,” he testified. “That’s how my body kind of rotated and after being able to review the video … now I know [DuBose] took his left arm and grabbed or pinned my arm against the steering wheel. As it happened, he had just mashed the accelerator … and I began to fall backwards. As he was accelerating, I could feel his car … as he had punched the accelerator, turning into me.”
He added, “I could feel his car coming into me, and falling backwards, and during this time, I told him twice, ‘stop, stop.’ I’m continuing to fall backwards … and it happened so fast, my police training kicked in. I felt my body moving with this car … and I instinctively reached for my gun … and I remember just, I didn’t want to get sucked under his car … and as I’m falling below the plane of his window, I can see his head … and I reached up and fired a shot.”
Mathews asked Tensing if he was telling the jury the truth, to which Tensing replied, “I am telling you what I experienced.”
“What was your purpose?” Mathews asked.
“To stop the threat,” Tensing replied.
The prosecution tried to poke holes in Tensing’s story throughout its cross-examination, and often pointed out that the officer’s testimony was just his “perception” of the shooting.
Tensing admitted he “misperceived that my arm was caught in the steering wheel.”
Tieger refused to allow Tensing to become emotional during his cross-examination, and asked rapid-fire questions without allowing any time between Tensing’s response and his next question.
Tieger also brought up the only other shooting in Tensing’s career as a police officer, in which the officer – then of the Green Hills Police Department – shot an aggressive dog that was charging him.
“Is it easier to shoot and kill a human being who wasn’t moving and was trapped in a car … than to shoot and kill a dog that was moving?” the prosecutor asked.
“There’s nothing easy about this, about what happened,” Tensing replied.
Tieger asked if Tensing had forgotten his police training when he reached into the car.
“I agree [it wasn’t] advisable,” Tensing said, “but I reacted to Mr. DuBose’s actions.”
“You had no trouble remembering [your training to ‘stop the threat’], did you?” Tieger asked.
“No, sir,” Tensing answered.
“You knew he was dead [when you shot him], didn’t you?” Tieger asked.
“I did not,” Tensing said. “The experts can sit here and evaluate and study it, but they were not in my mind in those seconds.”
“What did you think would happen once you shot him in the head?” Tieger asked in his final question. “Did you think he would walk away?”
“I never thought about that,” Tensing answered.
The bodycam footage of the incident, which has been shown numerous times throughout the trial and dissected by expert witnesses on both sides, was not shown during Tensing’s testimony.
The prosecution wrapped up its case on Wednesday, and the defense called its first witnesses Thursday.
Included among these witnesses were several UC police officers and forensic video expert Scott Roder, who engaged in several heated exchanges with prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid on Thursday.
The attorney repeatedly attacked Roder’s credibility and began her cross-examination by asking if he was, in fact, a forensic expert.
“I believe the judge qualified me as an expert,” Roder answered.
“I know,” DeGraffenreid responded, “but I’m asking, are you one?”
“I am now,” the Los Angeles-based evidence expert said.
Much of Roder’s testimony consisted of frame-by-frame analysis of Tensing’s body cam footage with audio enhancements that the defense used to show that DuBose’s car had been started and was in gear before Tensing shot him.
The prosecution had also called a video forensic expert, but Roder called his lack of audio analysis a “fatal flaw.”
Roder said he and his team – the Evidence Room – take a “holistic” approach to crime scene reconstruction and consider human elements along with scientific evidence.
In a surprising move, the prosecution asked on Wednesday for the lesser charge of reckless homicide to be included in the indictment.
Tieger said that, by adding the lesser charge, he hoped “to prevent a miscarriage of justice, where there would be a second hung jury.”
Judge Ghiz denied the motion – which was made before proceedings began – but said it could be reconsidered after both sides have finished presenting their cases.
Closing arguments will be heard Monday morning, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations after lunch.
Judge Ghiz told members of the jury to pack overnight bags before she dismissed them for Father’s Day weekend.