Last week, Sam DuBose was shot in the face and killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, after being pulled over for not having a front license plate on his vehicle. Today, the officer was indicted for murder—a result that would not have happened, were it not for the officer’s body camera.
Officer Tensing’s statement to the reporting police officer affirms that Tensing “began to be dragged by a male black driver who was operating a 1998 Green Honda Accord.” Tensing claims that “he almost was run over by the driver of the Honda Accord and was forced to shoot the driver with his duty weapon.”
Another officer, Phillip Kidd, offered corroborating testimony to the reporting officer, affirming that he “witnessed the Honda Accord drag Officer Tensing, and that he witnessed Officer Tensing [subsequently] fire a single shot.”
Both officers lied.
As it turns out, Tensing discharged his weapon into the face of Mr. DuBose without being dragged. And the injury which Tensing reported, claiming it was because of being dragged, actually happened when Tensing fell down after firing his weapon.
The county prosecutor acknowledged that prosecution against the officer became necessary after viewing the tape, and the city mayor opined that DuBose’s shooting, caught on the body camera and refuting the lying officer’s claims, “is going to help the cause of body cameras across the country.”
Terina Allen, the victim’s sister, told reporters that “If it were not for that video camera, Sam would be no different than all of the other [unindicted police shootings], because the second officer was ready to corroborate every lie that the first officer said in the report.”
Body cameras are desired by police, as they largely serve to successfully resolve false complaints made against them. Additionally, as in this case, they can help weed out the “bad apples” in law enforcement; unfortunately this usually happens after an innocent person has been harmed or killed.
According to an analysis of public records by Libertas Institute, over a dozen law enforcement agencies in Utah now operate body cameras, governed only by the policies the agencies themselves decide to abide by. As such, our policy team, along with partners at the ACLU Utah and Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has invested hundreds of hours in legal and policy research to craft a state-wide policy proposal that will serve to encourage the proper use of cameras while mitigating some of the potentially abusive actions such as turning cameras off when they should be on, recording private behavior such as bathroom use, access to video by the media and the public, etc.
Were it not for the camera worn by Officer Tensing, his statements would likely have been relied upon as truth, as the criminal justice system, and the public more broadly, are deferential to those in authority. As such, justice for DuBose and his family would have been denied, and an act of aggression would have been swept under the rug by officers who have taken an oath to do the exact opposite.
Body cameras are not a panacea, and are not without their problems—but if you ask DuBose’s family, along with too many other families around the country, they are the saving grace that have facilitated some semblance of justice. Such tools should not be feared, but encouraged—so long as proper guidelines are put in place to ensure accountability and protection of our privacy.