Two high profile trials start today involving the shooting of black motorists by while police officers under very questionable circumstances.
Jury selection begins today in the murder trial of former North Charleston (SC) police officer Michael Slager, who was filmed on a cell phone camera shooting slowly fleeing suspect Walter Scott in the back after a vehicular stop, foot pursuit, and struggle over control of Slager’s taser.
In Ohio, jury selection also begins in the trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, who shot and killed Sam Dubose during a traffic stop.
While both shoots involved black motorists being non-compliant with while police officers during traffic stops, videos of the two events suggest very different things occurred that led to the deaths of Scott and Dubose.
The Death Of Walter Scott
There’s no beating around the bush here: the shooting of Walter Scott by Michael Slager appears to be an exasperated officer who was having trouble taking a non-compliant suspect into custody simply losing his patience and decided to shoot a man down instead of running after him anymore.
In what appears to be cell phone video, Scott is seen to be struggling with Slager, and what is later identified as a taser falls to the ground. Scott then turns and runs away with his hands apparently empty. Slager draws his weapon and fires seven times in rapid succession, before taking a final deliberate shot that sends Scott wilting to the ground.
Allegedly, part of the reason that murder charges were filed against Slager is that he claimed in his report that he fired because Scott has his taser and he felt threatened, which does not match what we see in the video.
I cannot think of any excuse that Slager might offer up that will justify his actions, nor falsifying his report.
To the best we can determine, this was a bad shoot.
There may be some sort of exculpatory evidence that we’re simply not privy to at this time, but every bit of evidence thus far seems to suggest that Slager killed Scott in an intentional criminal homicide, and then altered the crime scene in order to make it look like a more plausible case of self-defense.
I expect him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The Shooting of Sam Dubose
While Walter Scott’s killing appears to be a deliberate, calculated act, the same cannot easily be said of the shooting of Sam Dubose by now former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing.
Officer Tensing’s stop with Sam Dubose was relatively low key despite Dubose’s refusal to provide identification or even a straight answer. That all changed when Dubose pulled his door shut and then tried to put the car in gear and escape. Tensing drew his gun with his right hand as he reached into the vehicle with his left. That may have created the conditions for a negligent discharge instead of an intentional killing.
Several very knowledgeable firearms instructors have viewed University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing’s body camera video that captured his shooting of motorist Sam Dubose, and have come to the conclusion that we may be looking at a negligent discharge, not an intentional shooting.
One of them, 2010 Law Enforcement Officer Trainer of the Year Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives, makes a compelling case on his Facebook page that the shooting may have been the result of a natural physiological response as Tensing attempted to turn off the ignition of Dubose’s car with his left hand, while his right hand was on the trigger of his gun.
I have watched this multiple times and its tough to explain. What I think may have happened is a case of Inner-limb Response or Sympathetic Muscle Contraction as defined by Dr. Roger Anoka. Basically, what one side of the body does the other side does to a lesser extent….when one hand tightens, so does the other. Its really hard to see, but it is possible that the officer clenched his left hand reaching for the keys and engaged the trigger with his right. Again…hard to tell from just this video…but the driver appears to try and start the car, the officer perceives danger and goes for his pistol. At the same time he reaches for the keys and clenches and the pistol just happens to be aligned with the driver’s head. Not good…
Regardless, this officer has problems and I am glad I am not in his shoes. As much as we preach “finger out of the trigger guard” , when a true sympatric interaction occurs, the finger will fall in line with the rest of the hand and fold back as designed. This will result in a finger on the trigger no matter where it starts. I like the idea of having the finger bent when in register but this is no guarantee either. This case will be interesting if it goes to trial…
Let’s be very clear: a negligent shot into Dubose’s head doesn’t make him and less dead, but it should change the appropriate charge from murder to negligent homicide.
Intent matters if justice is to be served.