In two states, uphill cop murder retrials
Jurors haven’t been willing to convict police.
cincinnati» Facing uphill battles to find jurors willing to convict police officers, prosecutors in two states say they will try again to win guilty verdicts against white officers in the fatal shootings of black men.
A judge in the case against former University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing set a Monday hearing on a timetable for a retrial. Jurors couldn’t reach a verdict on murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against him in the death of Sam DuBose, and a mistrial was declared Nov. 12.
A South Carolina jury deadlocked last Monday on the same charges against Michael Slager, a former North Charleston officer. The prosecutor also pledged to try Slager again for the death of Walter Scott.
Legal experts say the mistrials underscore the difficulties prosecutors face in police cases, with many jurors unwilling to second-guess officers’ reactions when they claim to be in danger.
“Juries tend to give police officers the benefit of the doubt,” said Mike Allen, a Cincinnati attorney and former prosecutor. “You can argue till the cows come home whether that’s right or not.”
In both trials, the former officers testified in their own defenses and said they feared for their lives. Tensing, 27, said he believed he could be killed by DuBose’s car, as the 43-year-old man tried to drive away after he was stopped by Tensing in July 2015 for a missing front license plate. Slager, 35, said the 50-year-old Scott wrestled his stun gun away and pointed it at him after he stopped Scott for a broken tail light in April 2015.
Prosecutors said evidence including Tensing’s bodycam video contradicted his story. A bystander’s cellphone video showed Slager shooting Scott five times in the back, video that was widely seen and further inflamed national debate about how police treat blacks.
“Even in the most egregious cases, it takes an awful lot to get a jury to convict a police officer,” said Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green (Ohio) State University criminologist who tracks police shooting cases around the country.
The only police officer Stinson knows of who’s been convicted of murder by a jury for an on-duty shooting since he began compiling statistics in 2005 is James Ashby. The former Rocky Ford officer was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a jury in June convicted him of second-degree murder for fatally shooting Jack Jacquez in the back in 2014 after following him into the home of the slain man’s mother.
Michael Slager, right, leaves the Charleston County Courthouse under the protection of the sheriff ’s department after a mistrial was declared for his trial last week in South Carolina. Mic Smith, The Associated Press