A newly engaged dad was fatally shot by a University of Cincinnati cop on Sunday—raising questions about the university force’s authority off campus and adding to the toll of unarmed black men dying in police encounters.
UC officer Ray Tensing pulled over Sam Dubose, 43, a mile from the school because he was missing a front license plate, police announced Monday.
But at some point during the 6:30 p.m. traffic stop, Tensing and the father of 13 allegedly began tussling through the car window. Dubose started driving away and Tensing fired a shot into his head, authorities said.
“Officer Tensing…asked Mr. Dubose multiple times to provide a license,” university police chief Jason Goodrich said at a press conference. “He produced a bottle of alcohol inside the car … but was unable to provide a driver’s license.”
Authorities say a struggle ensued when Dubose refused to exit the vehicle. He was shot moments after trying to speed off, and the car rolled for a block before stopping. Dubose was pronounced dead at the scene, Goodrich said.
Still, it’s unclear how the routine traffic violation turned deadly.
As of Monday afternoon, investigators were waiting to interview Tensing and two other officers at the scene. All three cops declined to make immediate statements but have 24 hours to do so according to their contracts, Cincinnati police Lieutenant Colonel James Whalen said.
Asked if Dubose had a weapon, Whalen replied, “To the best of my knowledge, no.”
Police are reviewing footage from Tensing’s body camera and surveillance from a nearby building, Whalen said.
Tensing, who has been placed on administrative leave, was knocked to the ground during the incident, Goodrich said. He was treated at a hospital for his injuries, which included “bruising on his legs,” the chief added.
Goodrich said traffic stops are “normal” for the university force, which comprises 72 officers.
“It’s not our primary mission, but it’s not something we shy away from, either,” Goodrich said. “Our officers have the discretion to stop vehicles that commit traffic violations the way any other police officer would.”
Under a mutual aid agreement, university police can patrol some areas off campus—a pact that’s becoming more common at schools nationwide.
In 2013, UC interim police chief Jeff Corcoran told the Associated Press: “It used to be we were responsible for the campus. Now there’s an expectation, I think, especially with parents, but to a large extent among students, that we’re also responsible for these areas off campus.”
“We’re getting pushed to ignore those imaginary lines on the map and be more proactive in that area,” he added.
The UC officers undergo the same training as other law enforcement officers and are “commissioned by the state of Ohio with full law enforcement authority,” according to one campus report.
A spokeswoman for the Cincinnati Police Department referred questions to the university. UPDATE: Michele Ralston, a UC spokeswoman, said campus cops receive the same training as city police officers. She did not have data on how often the officers make off-campus arrests.
As for Dubose, he has been arrested 75 times in the last 20 years, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Court records show he’s faced charges of misdemeanor drug possession, drug abuse, and marijuana trafficking, for which he served prison time.
In January, his license was suspended indefinitely after multiple arrests for driving without a license, the Enquirer reported.
Friends set up a memorial Monday morning with balloons and candles at a utility pole close to the scene of the crime. They told local media that Dubose—who got engaged last week—wasn’t a violent man despite his criminal history.
“Everybody in the community loved Sam,” Hadassah Thomas, a neighbor, told WLWT. “He was so helpful and he was always around. He used to babysit for my daughter. What men do that? He didn’t carry a gun, so why did he get shot?”
Kimberly Thomas, 40, called Dubose “an awesome man” and said he never carried weapons. “He was a dad of 13, and the police got no explanation,” Thomas told the Enquirer. “You’ve got to be doing something—we’re upset.”
This isn’t the first time University of Cincinnati police have made headlines. In 2011, UC student Everette Howard Jr. died after campus police stunned him with a Taser. His family was awarded a $2 million settlement, and campus police agreed to suspend the use of Tasers.