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Tensing decision will be a challenge for community, experts say

Two area experts agreed with the decision by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters this week to not pursue a new trial against former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing.

Deters said it was his decision alone not to try Tensing again after two hung juries on murder and voluntary manslaughter charges for killing black motorist Sam Dubose, 43, who was stopped for missing a front license plate on his car. Tensing, who is white, shot once, hitting Dubose in the head, a body camera worn by Tensing showed.

Patrick Oliver, associate professor of criminal justice at Cedarville University, and a former chief of police in Cleveland, Fairborn, and Grandview Heights, said he understands why Deters decided against a third trial.

MORE: Ray Tensing case: 5 things to know

“… Because after two mistrials, what is the likelihood of convicting a person in a third trial? I understand the position that the prosecutor found himself in,” Oliver said.

Many believe that Tensing was indicted on the wrong charges, which Deters on July 18 called “idiotic,” saying that the evidence and facts in his opinion showed that the charges were valid against Tensing.

MORE: Prosecutor weighs next move in fatal officer-involved shooting

Rodney D. Coates, director of the black world studies program at Miami University, agrees with Deters.

“I think that if any one of us had been caught on video shooting a man in the head while he was sitting down in his car, there would be no way that a jury would not convict us of murder,” Coates said.

Tensing’s defense team said the former UC cop feared for his life as Dubose pulled away from the traffic stop, and that strategy, according to Oliver, was effective.

“That is a legitimate defense. If that person believes that his life or someone else’s life is in danger, they are allowed to use deadly force,” Oliver explained. “Now, the video clip is very interesting because if you watch it, it is hard to tell whether he was legitimately being dragged along or caught or whether he was free, so that is sort of key in this case.”

Moving forward, he added, will be a challenge for white and black members of the city.

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“I think on one hand there is a segment of the community that has great passion and concern about law enforcement officers and the difficulty of their job,” Oliver said. “On the other hand I think there is a segment of the minority community, particularly the black community, that feels like they can’t get a conviction in a criminal case, so there’s going to be more tension in Cincinnati I think.”

Coates said the prosecution had an impossible time trying to litigate “perception” in the case.

“I saw the same video as everyone else, and I’m trying to figure out how Tensing, who was holding a gun, felt his life was in danger as a man was driving away that he ends up shooting in the head,” Coates said. “If all Tensing has to say is ‘that I feel threatened’ - then you end up just trying to prosecute perception, and how do you do that?”

The case has been referred to the U.S. attorney for southern Ohio. But Coates sees a bigger challenge for people moving forward.

“It is not the time not to vilify police nor is it the time to romanticize black crime,” he said. “But rather this is the time for people to come together who want to find a way to make sure that justice gets served when a crime is committed.”

DuBose’s sister Terina Allen on Tuesday said her brother was “no threat” to Tensing. She pledged to hound Tensing “the rest of his life,” and “let people know he is a murderer.”

Lacy Robinson of Hamilton was pleased that there would not be a third trial as she created a petition on change.org with garnered more than 5,600 signatures asking Deters to not pursue Tensing again. On Wednesday, she told the Journal-News that a fourth petition has been started asking U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman to not pursue civil rights charges.

“Our prayers continue to be with both the Dubose and Tensing families, and I just want all voices to be heard and not just mine,” Robinson said. “I just spoke with Terina Allen, and we were able to have a peaceful, and respectful, conversation regarding the case, as well as the racial issues in the United States.”

Robinson’s group that has supported Tensing is holding a peace rally at 6 p.m. Monday at Sawyer Point.