Predictably it took almost no time for ex-University of Cincinnati Cop Ray Tensing who is charged with the murder of unarmed motorist Samuel Dubose to make his $1 million bail. His father allegedly put up his house and cash as collateral for the 10 percent or $100,000 that was required for Tensing's release. Even if his father hadn't coughed up the collateral to bail his son out, Tensing would have quickly been freed. The instant he was charged with murder the offers to send money for his bail poured in from far and wide. In fact, by even setting bail in the first place his release was virtually insured.
This is the first danger sign that convicting Tensing of Dubose's murder is far from a slam dunk. The advantages of bail for a defendant, especially a former police officer, are enormous. Tensing will not appear in court in waist chains or jail garb. He will be freshly scrubbed, clean shaven, boyish looking, and dressed in a neatly pressed shirt, suit and tie. He will meet with his attorney, or, as with most cop defendants, a battery of attorneys in the relaxed, comfort of their offices to meticulously plan his defense strategy. He will have ample opportunity to personally review all tapes, documents, and any other materials pertinent to his defense. He will be able in consort with his attorneys to tailor, massage, and rehearse his version of the events that led up to and included the slaying of DuBose.
At the end of each court session, he will walk out of court arm in arm with his family and friends, and return home. The sight of a defendant such as Tensing walking free from court each day can make a powerful impression on a judge, and especially jurors. The subtle message is that he is a regular Joe, a family man, just like us. Is this someone really capable of committing the dastardly act that he is charged with?
The easily doable bail for Tensing is hardly an aberration. It's more often than not standard procedure for police officers charged in the fatal shootings of unarmed civilians, especially, African-American or Hispanic civilians. A near textbook example of that was the release on no bail last February of NYPD officer Peter Liang charged with felony manslaughter in the shooting of Akai Gurley, an unarmed African-American, in November, 2014 in a Brooklyn housing project. Prosecutors raised no objection to his no bail release.
This precedent was well established when the four LAPD officers charged with beating black motorist Rodney King in 1991 quickly met the relatively low bail set for their release. The standard retort from prosecutors and judges as to why they routinely grant low or no bail for cops charged with manslaughter, murder, or excessive force against unarmed civilians is that cops are solid members of the community and pose no flight risk. But this same criteria for determining what if any bail to set can just as easily apply to countless non-police officers charged with felony offenses whose bail is set high, or not at all. Many sit for months awaiting a trial or more likely are pressed into a plea bargain. At the very least, the low or no bail for police officers in excessive force cases reinforces the strong public perception that judges and prosecutors reflexively give the kid glove treatment to police officers who are hauled into the docket in sharp contrast to a poor, African-American or Hispanic defendant.
When Tensing appears in court as a very free man with his scripted defense, he will likely be watched and listened to by the type of jurors that his defense attorney will use every legal device in the playbook to impanel. They are jurors who would be likely to believe his version of the horrific events that led to him allegedly gunning down DuBose. Namely that he feared for his life.Tensing and his attorneys quickly and eagerly latched onto this as his defense.
The presumption is that these jurors are much more likely to believe the testimony of police and police defense witnesses than black witnesses, defendants, or even the victims. It's a presumption that has been borne out in police misconduct trials time and again. George Zimmerman even got the benefit of that presumption when he walked in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Tensing's walk from court one day after his arraignment on bail set the stage for yet another knock down legal battle that will again pit a cop who will claim that he was put upon by an allegedly violent black man. Tensing's attorneys will word double to sell jurors on that demonized image of Dubose. As such, this supposedly left Tensing no choice but to use deadly force. Granting him bail will certainly do much to help with that sell.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.