U.S. News

Ohio police officer in murder trial says he feared for his life

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - A former University of Cincinnati police officer on trial for the second time in the killing of an unarmed black motorist said on Friday that he feared for his life during the traffic stop when the shooting took place.

FILE PHOTO - Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing is seen in an undated booking photo from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Ohio. Courtesy Hamilton County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Officer Ray Tensing, 27, shot once, hitting 43-year-old Samuel DuBose in the head after stopping him for a missing front license plate on his car in July 2015, a body camera worn by Tensing showed.

Tensing, who is white, was charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in a retrial of the case. A mistrial was declared last November in the first trial after jurors could not agree on a verdict.

DuBose’s death added to the debate in the United States over the use of excessive force by police, especially against minorities.

During tearful testimony on Friday at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Cincinnati, Tensing, dressed in a dark suit, said that DuBose was evasive during the traffic stop and attempted to speed away.

“He just mashed the accelerator to the floor,” said Tensing, who paused occasionally to wipe his eyes with a tissue.

“I protected my life,” Tensing said when asked by prosecutors if he had served and protected DuBose. Tensing said repeatedly that he shot to “stop the threat.”

Tensing has pleaded not guilty and is free on a $1 million bond. The university police fired him after he was charged.

Tensing’s attorney, Stew Mathews, said in opening arguments on June 8 that his client did not anticipate DuBose was going to drive off with Tensing’s arm in the car. Tensing was afraid he would be dragged and possibly killed.

“This all happened so quickly that instinctively Ray Tensing did the only thing he could do to save his own life,” Mathews said. He said Tensing is not a racist and that if DuBose had cooperated during the stop he would not be dead.

During the traffic stop, Tensing asked DuBose to remove his seat belt and tried to open the car door. DuBose did not comply and closed the door. The vehicle started slowly rolling forward with Tensing’s arm pinned against the steering wheel, his lawyer said. Tensing pulled his gun and fired once.

Hamilton County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid said in opening remarks that Tensing ignored his training when he reached into the car and that he was never in danger. She called what occurred “clearly a murder.”

Closing statements in the trial are scheduled for Monday.

Reporting by Ginny McCabe, writing by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Ben Klayman and Lisa Shumaker