Few officers charged in shooting deaths

Published: Jun. 23, 2017 at 3:03 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2017 at 7:23 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Samuel DuBose's shooting death was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S. over the last three years.

Few officers have been charged, and none were convicted by juries in those deaths.

Law enforcement experts cite several factors for the low number of officers charged and convicted.

They include racial bias, attitudes toward law enforcement and the challenge of showing what an officer was thinking in a high-pressure situation.

Jurors historically do not want to second-guess law enforcement in split-second decisions in which police feel their lives are in jeopardy.

Former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing faced two trials in DuBose's 2015 death.

Both ended in mistrials with deadlocked juries, the latest one on Friday.

During that time, four officers were acquitted by juries.

Two were in the last week alone:

  • The Minnesota officer who fatally shot Philando Castile. Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty on June 16 of manslaughter. Castile was shot during a traffic stop, and millions of people saw the aftermath because his girlfriend livestreamed it on Facebook.
  • A black Wisconsin officer, Dominique Heaggan-Brown was found not guilty on Wednesday of reckless homicide. He was charged for killing Sylville Smith, who appeared to throw away the gun he was carrying during a foot chase.

In May, a white Oklahoma police officer was found not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black man.

Betty Jo Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September. Shelby approached him in a city street where his SUV had broken down.

Shelby said she fired her weapon out of fear because Crutcher ignored her commands to lie down and kept reaching into his pockets.

But prosecutors said she overreacted, arguing that Crutcher had his hands in the air and wasn't combative — part of which was confirmed by police video that showed him walking away from Shelby with his hands above his head.

Shortly before the announcement of Shelby's reinstatement with Tulsa police, the foreman of the jury that acquitted her said in a court filing that if Shelby had thought to use her stun gun before Crutcher reached his stalled sport utility vehicle, the decision "could have saved his life."

"Many on the jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher's death," the foreman wrote.

Last year, a mistrial was declared in the murder case of a white South Carolina police officer who shot a black motorist in the back as he fled a traffic stop.

The officer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating the civil rights of Walter Scott. The murder charge was dismissed as part of the plea. His sentence could range from probation to life in prison without parole.

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