The body camera footage of the police shooting of Samuel DuBose shows not just how far video can go in getting an indictment and criminal charges against cops, but how it can dispel misleading claims from officers in the aftermath of a shooting.
Warning: Graphic footage of the shooting:
The incident report filed by University of Cincinnati police, for instance, made two false claims about the traffic stop and fatal shooting of DuBose: that UC police officer Ray Tensing was dragged by the car, and that he was almost run over by the vehicle.
"Officer Tensing stated that he was attempting a traffic stop (No front license plate) when, at some point, he began to be dragged by a male black driver who was operating a 1998 Green Honda Accord (OH.GLN6917)," the report stated. "Officer Tensing stated that he almost was run over by the driver of the Honda Accord and was forced to shoot the driver with his duty weapon."
But based on the video, these claims seem to get the timeline of events wrong. The car started moving very slowly — to the point that it's hard to make out whether it was moving at all. Within seconds, Tensing reached into the vehicle and shot DuBose in the head. He then fell over, stumbling a good distance away from the car.
Tensing doesn't appear to be attached to and dragged by the vehicle, and he's never close to being run over. When he falls over after firing the shot, he's so far away from the car that he has to run after it as it accelerates. (DuBose's body appears to have fallen against the pedal after he was shot dead, causing the vehicle to accelerate, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.)
Without the video, it's much less likely a grand jury would have agreed to an indictment for murder and voluntary manslaughter, and the Republican prosecutor on the case— who called the killing "asinine," "senseless," and "unwarranted" at a press conference — may not have been so confident that a murder charge was called for. If there's no camera footage, these cases tend to turn into he-says-she-says situations between civilians and police officers, and grand juries and prosecutors tend to see the police as more credible.
"There is a tendency to believe an officer over a civilian, in terms of credibility," David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer who co-wrote Prosecuting Misconduct: Law and Litigation, told Vox's Amanda Taub in November. "And when an officer is on trial, reasonable doubt has a lot of bite. A prosecutor needs a very strong case before a jury will say that somebody who we generally trust to protect us has so seriously crossed the line as to be subject to a conviction."
So, without the video, the scenario Rudovsky described would have likely played out. Multiple police officers would have pointed to the incident report, saying Tensing was dragged by the car and nearly run over. Grand juries and prosecutors, having either no other evidence or only the word of civilian witnesses to go on, would have likely sided with the police. And they would have been wrong.