Tensing testifies: 'I shot him to stop the threat'

Updated: Jun. 17, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT
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James Scanlon (Cincinnati Enquirer)
James Scanlon (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Ray Tensing takes the stand Friday (Enquirer)
Ray Tensing takes the stand Friday (Enquirer)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The defense rested in the Ray Tensing retrial Friday after an emotional Tensing testified for just over two hours.

Closing arguments will begin Monday morning.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz excused the jury for the weekend.

She cautioned them to return to court with two days of clothing to be safe. They will be sequestered while they deliberate if it goes beyond 4 p.m. Monday, she said.

Tensing, 27, is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Samuel DuBose, 43, during a 2015 traffic stop.

In a surprise development Thursday, prosecutors asked the judge to let the jury consider a third, lesser charge of reckless homicide.

The judge denied the motion.

To convict Tensing of murder, jurors must decide that he purposely killed DuBose. Murder carries a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

To find Tensing guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the jury would have to conclude DuBose was killed during sudden passion or a fit of rage, carrying a possible prison sentence of three to 11 years.

Reckless homicide carries a possible sentence of nine months to 3 years in prison.

Earlier, Tensing took the stand to defend himself.

He testified during his first trial last fall and was emotional at times.

This time, he cried more and appeared to be openly shaken when he got off the stand after a particularly intense round of questioning from Assistant Prosecutor Seth Tieger.

Tensing began his testimony by outlining his law enforcement training and history of employment for jurors.

Tensing said he started out as a police explorer In high school. He went on to attend Ohio State and the police academy at the University of Cincinnati's Clermont County campus.

He graduated with a 3.7 grade point average and was hired part-time as a Greenhills police officer in western Hamilton County.

Tensing told jurors he worked there nearly four years, during which time he finished his college degree.

He was hired as a patrol officer at UC's police department in April 2014.

He said more officers were hired at the same time as crime increased around campus.

UCPD had more off-campus beats than on-campus ones because the then-police chief was a big proponent of very proactive traffic stops and campus officers being visible in the community, Tensing said.

He told jurors his entire beat was off campus. He was on the south side of campus and rode alone in a patrol car.

Tensing said he only pulled cars over for legitimate, lawful reasons.

The day he pulled DuBose over in Mt. Auburn began like a typical hot summer day.

He said he took his mother to breakfast and went into work.

He arrived in street clothes and changed into his uniform. He attended roll call and was assigned to patrol off campus.

Tensing was involved in several traffic stops once his shift began.

Tensing's attorney,Stew Mathews, played video showing jurors some of the stops Tensing made before he spotted a car without a front license plate and pulled it over.

Tensing explained his actions in those stops. The video shows he was courteous and professional in all, even making sure the air conditioning in his cruiser was turned up to keep a man he detained cool in the blazing July heat.

Then Mathews played footage from his body camera of DuBose's traffic stop.

He said he saw a Honda Accord without a front license plate. He ran the back plate and it came back registered to a female owner whose driver's license was under suspension.

He flipped on the lights of his patrol car to initiate a traffic stop.

The driver was "slow to stop," he told jurors. Not fleeing, but not immediately pulling over, either.

That raised Tensing's suspicions before he even got out of his patrol car, walked up and approached the driver's side of the Honda.

DuBose asked Tensing why Tensing pulled him over.

Tensing asked him for his driver's license.

DuBose turned the car off, took his key and went into the glove box. He pulled out the front plate.

Tensing acknowledged the plate and told DuBose to keep it and put it on later. He continued to focus on trying to identify DuBose.

DuBose didn't produce identification. He patted down his pockets, acted evasive and appeared to be stalling, Tensing told jurors.

Then Tensing said he saw a bottle between DuBose's legs and the floorboard.

DuBose picked it up and handed it to him.

Tensing said it was a gin bottle filled with air freshener. That piqued his interest. The officer knew through his experience it possibly was being used to mask the smell of drugs.

DuBose continued to act nervous and evasive.

Tensing told jurors he thought "There's something else going on here. There's some reason why he is so nervous. It was more than just a missing license plate."

At that point, Tensing told DuBose to take off his seatbelt and went to open the driver's side door.

He planned to take DuBose's keys and handcuff him.

As Tensing tried to open the car door, DuBose pulled it shut and restarted the car.

He reached for the keys in his ignition.

"I was so close to his window, I thought I had a very good chance to turn his car off and stop him right there from taking off," Tensing said.

"With it being 6:30 in the evening in the summertime, I thought I could stop a pursuit right there before a pursuit happened since those are very dangerous.

"So I reached in with my left hand to grab his car keys and that's when with just a fluid motion, he turned the car on and, with his right hand, he went down to center console and shifted his car into drive and smashed the accelerator at that point."

"I'm falling backward and during this time I told him twice: 'Stop! Stop!' My perception,my belief at that point, is the car is moving. I'm continuing to fall backwards. I'm still feeling my arm caught in that car. I felt my body moving with his car, falling backward and, instinctually, just reached for my gun...

"I just didn't want to get sucked under his car and run over," Tensing said. "All I could see was his head and that's when I reached up as far as I could with my right hand and fired a shot."

Mathews asked him:

"Were you dragged?"

"Yes, I was," Tensing responded.

He estimated he was dragged 15 to 20 feet down the street by DuBose's car.

Mathews ended his questioning by asking Tensing what his purpose was in using force against DuBose.

"To stop the threat," Tensing answered.

Under cross, Tensing cried again and appeared shaken by the time he left the stand, throwing out the tissues he used and wadded up during his testimony.

"Would you agree you killed Sam DuBose?" Tieger asked him.

"Yes, to stop the threat," Tensing responded.

"Was it your intent to kill him?" Tieger asked.

"No, sir, it was to stop the threat," Tensing said.

Tieger repeatedly questioned Tensing's actions before, during and after his encounter with DuBose: Why didn't he wait for backup if he felt the traffic stop was suspicious? Did he forget about his training when he reached into DuBose's car?

Tensing told the prosecutor he thought about the shooting every single day for nearly the past two years: "millions" of times.

Tieger said Tensing never felt for DuBose's pulse, check for any signs of life or ask the other officers at the scene how he was.

He said Tensing focused on his own "minor" injuries and justifying his actions, telling officers he was dragged.

"I was in shock," Tensing responded. "This happened so fast. I was in shock....During those minutes, I don't know what had happened. My mind was just in shock. It was traumatizing."

As Tieger kept questioning his actions leading up to the shooting,Tensing said: "Again, sir, you've had time and months to study this. I made a split second decision....I reacted to Mr. DuBose's actions."

Tensing said he didn't have any expert witnesses in his mind at the time he had to make a split second decision to stop what he felt was a threat against his life.

"I didn't shoot to kill him, I didn't shoot to wound him. I shot him to stop the threat."

Before Tensing took the stand, the defense's use of force expert testified.

James Scanlon was with the Columbus Police Department 33 years. Now he is co-owner of North American SWAT Association.

He said he educates law enforcement officers in concepts and philosophies how to take their training and apply it to real-life scenarios.

He said he doesn't testify for a living and has only testified five times before as a use of force expert.

In this case, he said he never heard of an officer being indicted and fired so fast. So he reviewed Tensing's body camera footage and said he saw nothing to warrant an indictment.

That prompted him to contact Tensing's attorney, and he is not being paid for his  testimony.

He told jurors he doesn't agree with Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters calling Tensng's traffic stop of Samuel DuBose a "chicken crap stop" or that Tensing's gun recoil knocked him down.

Scanlon spent the first part of his testimony standing next to a large television screen displaying footage from Tensing's body camera and going over it for the jury.

He told them he saw nothing unreasonable about the stop, but the threat indicators began quickly due to DuBose behavior.

DuBose, Scanlon said, was very evasive about his driver's license and the gin bottle, which would heighten the suspicion of any reasonable officer.

Then, DuBose closed the car door - an act of defiance toward the officer.

Officers are not encouraged to reach into cars, but there's no training manual or law that prohibits it, Scanlon told the jury.

DuBose put his arm up, an act of aggression, pinning Tensing's arm and causing him to fall back.

Scanlon said if he was Tensing, he would have felt in fear for his life. His duty weapon would have been the only way to end the threat.

"My opinion is the actions of Officer Ray Tensing were reasonable, justified and in accordance with recognized police practices," Scanlon told the jury.

Scanlon gave similar testimony when he took the stand in the first trial last year.

Under a cross examination with Tieger that turned contentious at times, Scalon was shown a slide from training Tensing received about "never, never, never" reaching into a vehicle.

"That's absurd," Scanlon responded. "There are no nevers in police work....I've reached into cars and grabbed keys from a drunk at a stop light and had I not...they couldn't killed a family of five."

Police guidelines may read police "should not" reach into cars, Scanlon said, but Tensing's decision to do so in this case was reasonable.

"This went from a minor traffic offense to a severe traffic offense to a life threatening traffic offense."

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