Sam Dubose Case: Murder, or Reflexive Discharge?

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 drivers 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…


I want to stress that parasympathetic response would not be legal justification for the shooting, just a possible explanation of what may have occurred from the physiological perspective.

If the case goes to trial—there is always the possibility Tensing will take a plea bargain—his attorney’s will likely try to claim that the body camera video shows the sympathetic muscle response in action, and they will then argue that Tensing mis-remembered the sequence of events of that day when he gave his statement that he shot because he was being dragged (the video suggests he shot Dubose, then he was dragged immediately afterward), and that he was not lying.

I don’t see a possible avenue for Tensing to avoid a conviction here. While Dubose was non-compliant and was apparently attempting to drive off, he was not attempting to harm Officer Tensing, and I don’t think the argument that “Dubose’s car constituted a weapon” when it wasn’t being used as such before Tensing fired is a legally valid defense.

That said, the sympathetic muscle response could result in a conviction on something less than a murder charge, such as involuntary manslaughter.

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