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Ray Tensing, University of Cincinnati officer in Samuel DuBose shooting, pleads not guilty

University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing has pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance today on murder and manslaughter charges after a traffic stop led to the shooting death of a black motorist.

Campus cop, 25, indicted for murder after traffic stop escalated to killing of unarmed black motorist

University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing appeared Thursday morning in an Ohio court, which set his bail on murder and manslaughter charges at 1 million US.

University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing made his first court appearance Thursday on murder and voluntary manslaughter charges and pleaded not guilty in the traffic stop shooting death of Samuel DuBose, a black motorist. 

Ohio Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan set Tensing's bail at $1 million US (more than $1.3 million Cdn). He was released hours after his plea, according to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts.

When the bond was announced, people in the courtroom audience cheered but were quickly rebuked by the judge. Shanahan rejected the defence attorney's contention that Tensing wasn't at a flight risk.

Tensing, 25, appeared at his arraignment wearing a striped jail uniform with his hands cuffed behind him. He is due back in court Aug. 19.

The indictment Wednesday of Tensing, on a charge of murder in the traffic stop shooting, was applauded by officials in a city roiled by racial violence that erupted in 2001 after an unarmed black man was killed by Cincinnati police following a string of earlier shootings by officers.

The family of DuBose, 43, urged the community to remain calm, as it has in a series of demonstrations since the July 19 shooting by Tensing, who is white. Tensing had stopped DuBose for a missing front licence plate, which is required in Ohio but not in neighbouring states.

Two campus police officers who responded to the shooting have been put on paid leave, university spokeswoman Michele Ralston confirmed Thursday. Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt are on leave while the university police department conducts an internal investigation, she said.

DuBose's death comes amid months of national scrutiny in the U.S. of police dealings with black individuals, especially those killed by officers. Authorities so far have not focused on race in the death of DuBose. City officials who viewed video footage released from Tensing's body camera said the traffic stop shouldn't have led to a shooting.

"This officer was wrong," Cincinnati police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said, adding that officers "have to be held accountable" when they're in the wrong.

Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters scoffed at Tensing's claim that he was dragged by DuBose's car, saying the officer "purposely killed him." Using words such as "asinine" and "senseless," the veteran prosecutor known for tough stands on urban crime called it "a chicken crap" traffic stop.

"It was so unnecessary," Deters said. He added that Tensing "should never have been a police officer."

A memorial for Samuel DuBose was started in Cincinnati days after he was shot by a University of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop. (Tom Uhlman/Associated Press)
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said the way officials have handled the case could help make Cincinnati a national model for "the pursuit of justice."

But Emmanuel Gray, an organizer with the activist group Black Lives Matter, said at a rally Wednesday evening that the body camera video made the difference in how the case was handled.

"If there was no camera at that scene, the media and everybody would have taken the word of Tensing and the other officers," he said.

Tensing, who was jailed Wednesday, was fired soon after the indictment was announced. He had been with the University of Cincinnati for more than a year after starting police work in 2011 in a Cincinnati suburb. He also had earned a degree, in criminal justice, from the university.

Tensing's lawyer, Stewart Mathews, said he was shocked that his client was indicted on a murder charge and that Tensing did not intend to kill DuBose.

Tensing, who could face up to life in prison if convicted, has said he thought he was going to be dragged under the car and "feared for his life," Mathews said.

Mathews said a video from the body camera of a police officer who arrived right after the shooting shows Tensing lying in the street after he had gotten free of the car, but that video hasn't been released by authorities.

"With the political climate in this country with white police officers shooting black individuals, I think they need somebody to make an example of," Mathews said.

'Sam was peaceful'

Authorities have said Tensing noticed the car driven by DuBose didn't have a front licence plate. They say Tensing stopped the car and a struggle ensued after DuBose failed to provide a driver's licence and refused to get out of the car.

Prosecutor's office releases body-camera footage of police shooting near University of Cincinnati 4:51

"I didn't even do nothing," DuBose can be heard telling Tensing.

DuBose held up what appears to be a bottle of gin.

Tensing fired once, striking DuBose in the head.

Aubrey DuBose, the victim's brother, called the shooting "senseless" and "unprovoked." He said news of the indictment was "awesome."

He said the family is upset but wants any reaction to the case to be nonviolent and done in a way that honours his brother's style.

"Sam was peaceful," he said. "He lived peaceful. And in his death, we want to remain peaceful. Like my mom said, let God fight the battle. I'm a lifetime Cincinnatian. I remember 2001. We don't want none of that."

In the aftermath of the riots, the city increased police training and citizen feedback, revised policies to reduce use of deadly force and focused on community-oriented policing under a collaborative agreement hammered out with the police union and American Civil Liberties Union.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a May visit that Cincinnati's reforms could be a model for other cities dealing with the issue of community-police relations. Violent protests have followed the deaths of unarmed blacks in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities in the past year.

The Wednesday evening rally drew a large crowd outside a Cincinnati courthouse. It appeared peaceful with some holding up signs calling for justice for DuBose. One man on a bullhorn stressed, "We're not going to riot."
Joe Deters comments on investigation into fatal shooting involving a police officer 3:24

With files from CBC News

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