Second mistrial in Cincinnati leaves officer who killed Sam DuBose free

One week, three non-convictions in police killing trials.

Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor Joseph Deters announces murder and manslaughter charges against University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing on July 29, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor Joseph Deters announces murder and manslaughter charges against University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing on July 29, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo

Deeming the jury’s days-long deadlock hopeless, an Ohio judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing.

Tensing, whose lawyers say he shot and killed unarmed motorist Sam DuBose because he feared he was about to be dragged by DuBose’s car, has now avoided prison twice by way of hung juries. Tensing testified on his own behalf in both trials, a move that remains rare but was once unthinkable for homicide defendants.

Prosecutors could bring the case a third time, or decide charges they initially believed were water-tight are now unwinnable under the “reasonable officer” standard juries are instructed to apply to police killings.

Tensing is the third officer in the past week to beat a case stemming from their on-duty shooting of a black man. Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty last Friday in the killing of Philando Castile. Wisconsin officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted Wednesday in the killing of Sylville Smith.

While criminal charges against police officers in seemingly unjustified on-duty killings have become more common in recent years, it remains rare for prosecutors to even bring such cases.

The circumstances in the DuBose, Castile, and Smith killings were suspicious enough that Tensing, Yanez, and Heaggan-Brown were all fired or asked to leave their departments.

But the standards applied in court are different. Juries are told they may not second-guess an officer’s judgment, but must instead measure it and the evidence against how a reasonable police officer would have acted in the same circumstances.