Cincinnati - A University of Cincinnati police officer who shot a motorist during a traffic stop over a missing front license plate has been indicted on murder charges and a prosecutor said on Wednesday that the officer "purposely killed him”.
Prosecutor Joe Deters announced the grand jury indictment at a news conference to discuss developments in the investigation into the July 19 shooting of 43-year-old motorist Samuel DuBose by Officer Ray Tensing.
DuBose's death comes amid months of national scrutiny of police dealings with African-Americans, especially those killed by officers. DuBose was black. Tensing is white. Authorities haven't indicated whether race was a part of the investigation.
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Authorities have said Tensing spotted a car driven by DuBose and missing the front license plate, which is required by Ohio law. They say Tensing stopped the car and a struggle ensued after DuBose refused to provide a driver's license and get out of the car.
Tensing has said he was dragged by the car and forced to shoot at DuBose. He fired one shot, striking DuBose in the head.
But Deters dismissed Tensing's claim that he was dragged by the car and suggested that he shouldn't have pulled DuBose over to begin with.
"He fell backward after he shot [DuBose] in the head," Deters said.
On footage released from the body-camera video on Wednesday, the officer can be heard asking for DuBose's driver's license several times with DuBose at one point saying he had one. Later, DuBose says, "But I don't think I have it on me."
Tensing asks DuBose to unbuckle his seat belt. About that time Tensing pulls on the door handle, and DuBose puts his hand on the door to keep it closed. Then the video becomes shaky, but a gunshot can be heard and DuBose appears to be slumped in the seat before the car rolls away, coming to stop at a nearby corner.
DuBose's family had been pressing for release of the video, and news organisations including The Associated Press had sued Deters to get it released under Ohio open records law, but Deters released it before any ruling had been made.
The University of Cincinnati said it fired Tensing after his indictment. Tensing turned himself in on Wednesday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Centre and was processed on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Tensing's attorney, Stewart Mathews, didn't return phone messages seeking comment after the indictment announcement.
Mathews said earlier on Wednesday that he thought an indictment was likely "given the political climate" and comments made by city officials. But Mathews said given the evidence he's seen, he doesn't believe there should be an indictment.
Deters called the shooting "senseless" and "asinine."
"He purposely killed him," Deters said. "He should never have been a police officer."
Tensing's attorney said he was shocked that his client was indicted on a murder charge.
"I kind of expected he would get indicted for something, but I certainly didn't think it would be murder," attorney Stewart Mathews said.
He said murder means purposeful killing and his client did not intend to kill DuBose.
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"I don't think a university should be in the policing business," Deters said.
A message for comment was left on Wednesday with the police department. The university said earlier this week it plans an independent review of its police department's policies.
The University of Cincinnati on Wednesday closed its main campus in anticipation of grand jury action in the case.
If convicted, Tensing could face up to life in prison.
A rally held by the activist group Black Lives Matter drew a large crowd outside a courthouse Wednesday evening. The rally appeared peaceful, with some people holding up signs calling for justice for DuBose.