Campus cop’s training: ‘Never reach into a vehicle’

CINCINNATI — Seven months before Ray Tensing shot and killed Sam DuBose as he began to drive away from a traffic stop, Tensing underwent training on how to handle such stops.

Among the images in a PowerPoint presentation shown to officers: ‘NEVER.. NEVER.. NEVER.. NEVER.. reach into a vehicle.’

Both sides agree that Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, made a tactical error when he reached into DuBose’s car before shooting him in the head during the July 19, 2015, incident.

Still, his actions are at the heart of questions asked.

Tensing said his arm somehow became stuck inside. An expert who analyzed Tensing’s body camera video said last week the video doesn’t show that. In fact, about half a second before Tensing fired the fatal gunshot, Tensing can be seen using his left hand to apparently grab the shoulder harness of DuBose’s seat belt.

During that same December 2014 training, conducted by Hamilton Township Police Chief Scott Hughes, officers were instructed to, when possible, approach on the passenger side. If an officer approaches on the driver’s side, the officer should stand to the right of the door’s edge, behind the “B pillar.”  Hughes also taught them to have a driver place the vehicle’s keys on the dashboard.

Tensing didn’t follow those practices, according to testimony. The trial, which began last week in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court with opening statements, will resume Tuesday morning with a second round of defense witnesses.

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Last Slide

Among the prosecution’s last points on Monday included details about the bullet’s slight downward trajectory and the condition of Tensing’s clothing.

Dr. Karen Looman, the county’s deputy coroner, described how the bullet entered the left side of DuBose’s head, above the ear, and exited behind the right ear.

The bullet, Looman said, started “higher on the left” and traveled downward.

It cut the brain stem, which she said meant “there was no more thought” and stopped “all purposeful movement.”

The downward trajectory of the bullet gets to where Tensing was positioned when he fired the gunshot. Mathews says Tensing was being dragged by the car and was trying to stop a threat and save his own life. Prosecutors say Tensing wasn’t dragged.

As Looman walked jurors through graphic photos of DuBose’s wounds, Tensing looked away from the monitor in front of him or closed his eyes. Jurors saw the photos on a large video monitor in front of the jury box.

Mathews tried to ask Looman about DuBose’s overall health, but the question drew an immediate objection from the prosecution. The attorneys on both sides immediately went into Judge Megan Shanahan’s office. Shanahan has previously ruled that testimony about DuBose’s health is not admissible.

After they emerged, Looman said only that DuBose was “not a completely healthy individual” at the time of his death.

Also Monday, county crime lab director, Mike Trimpe, said Tensing’s clothing and boots had no obvious abrasions or drag marks. Tensing did have two injuries — a scrape on his knee and marks on his left arm.

Cincinnati Police Officer Martin Odom, who took photos of Tensing at University of Cincinnati Hospital afterwards, described Tensing’s demeanor as “nervous or afraid.”

Meanwhile, the jury hearing the murder case shrunk by one after an alternate asked, and on Friday, was excused for service because she was afraid she would be identified.

The juror was alternate No. 4, meaning the makeup of the jury did not change. It stands at six white men, four white women and two black women. Three alternates remain should one of the 12 jurors not be able to fulfill their duty.

Judge Megan Shanahan blamed the news media, which requested juror questionnaires after being shut out of the courtroom during jury selection on Nov. 30. Reporters could hear, but not see the selection, in another courtroom. No media outlet plans to name the jurors, including The Enquirer. The Enquirer withdrew its request for the full questionnaires.

Terina Allen, sister of Sam DuBose talks to members of the media about the defense starting to call witnesses to the stand in Ray Tensing’s trial on Monday, November 7. The Enquirer/Amanda Rossmann

“As a result of the media’s request we lost a juror,” Shanahan said before the trial resumed Monday. The juror indicated during questioning she was a lawyer for one of Cincinnati’s more prominent employers and served on a board, both of which could have led to her being identified.

Local civil rights activists want to see the juror questionnaires, saying they have ongoing concerns about the racial composition of the jury and the pool of registered voters from which it was selected.

But Shanahan, who had said Friday she would release redacted questionnaires, announced in court Monday that she would not release them — even with names and other personal information blocked out.

Follow Kevin Grasha and Sharon Coolidge on Twitter: @kgrasha and @SharonCoolidge

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