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'It's Not A Good Situation': Cincinnati Officials React to Body Cam Footage in Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Motorist

Cincinnati community leaders and officials called for calm but braced for unrest in a city that was paralyzed by riots after a similar police shooting 14 years ago.

by VICE News
Jul 28 2015, 8:10pm

Photo by John Minchillo/AP

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Two top Cincinnati officials have separately described the moment a university policeman shot unarmed black man Samuel Dubose in the head during a routine traffic stop as "not a good situation."

University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing reportedly pulled over Dubose, 43, over a missing front license plate on July 19, police said. The officer claims he was dragged by Dubose's car as he tried to speed away. Bodycam video of the incident was filmed, but has yet to be released pending a grand jury decision on whether to indict the officer, which is due in coming days.

City Manager Harry Black told WLWT News 5 Monday that he had not yet seen the footage but that "it was not a good situation" adding, "Someone has died that didn't necessarily have to die, and I will leave it at that."

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell used the same words when asked about the video.

"I have seen the video," Blackwell said. "I don't want to comment on the video today. I think it would be premature to interject my feelings, given the sensitive nature of what's in the video, because what has happened and what could happen in our community. It's not a good situation, I think that's clear. And it will become evident once that video is shown." 

"We're just trying to do our best to be prepared for whatever might come out of it," the added. "We are asking people here to be mindful of our policing strategy and platform that has existed since the collaborative."

Thomas is referring to the collaborative agreement enacted in April 2002 to improve community-police relations in the wake of riots that paralyzed Cincinnati a year earlier. Four days of rioting in April 2001 occurred after an unarmed 19 year-old African-American man, Timothy Thomas, was shot and killed by a white police officer after a foot chase through the Over-the-Rhine Neighborhod in downtown Cincinnati.

"To quote the family, 'We don't want another Timothy Thomas situation,'" Pastor Ennis Tait, who conducted the funeral service for the Dubose family on Tuesday, told WLWT. "They've said that and that's their heart. They don't want the city to be turned upside down and that issue to be attached to their brother's life."

"One of the major goals is that we don't repeat 2001," said Tait. "This incident has that potential and our goal is to make sure it doesn't reach that level."

Dubose family members, activists and other say the bodycam footage could prove critical in determining what happened during the July 19 encounter between Dubose, 43, and Officer Ray Tensing. Four local Cincinnati television stations, the Associated Press, and Cincinnati Enquirer have sued Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters in an effort to force Deters to release the bodycam footage. 

Deters said the video will be released after the grand jury decision. Last week, protesters and members of Dubose's family held signs and banners outside Deters' office to demand he release the footage.

Related: Cincinnati Man Was Going Home to Watch Movie With Son When Shot in Head by Police

Tensing was placed on administrative leave with pay ahead of the decision. The officer, who has been on the force for five years, walked away with minor injuries, including bruised legs, and his uniform was also torn, police said. Dubose did not appear to have a weapon, according to police.

Hamilton County prosecutor Deters said that his office was "rapidly investigating" the incident and expected to produce findings by the end of next week.

Cincinnati police are conducting a separate probe into the shooting.

University police have an agreement with the Cincinnati Police Department to patrol certain shared areas near the campus, but off-campus patrols have been suspended until further notice. 

One of Dubose's sons, Samuel, 9, told WKRC his father was "coming home" the night he was killed. They had set up a projector and "were going to watch a movie on it but we didn't get to do that...because he died."

Dubose's funeral drew 500 mourners, including the Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black, state Senator Cecil Thomas, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell.

"This shows the unity and strength of our city and community; the resistance of the people and love for our city," Blackwell said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer

Outside the church, five members of Black Lives Matter held up signs saying, "I can't breathe," but were later asked by DuBose's family to protest across the street. 

DuBose's family has hired attorney Mark O'Mara, who led the defense for George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2013.

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