Memory can be a tricky thing after trauma, psychologist warns

Posted at 8:45 PM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-03 07:31:34-04

CINCINNATI -- Three witnesses to the aftermath of Sam DuBose's death gave their accounts in a Hamilton County courtroom Wednesday.

At some point, DuBose's killer will take the stand. And Dr. James Daum, who's worked as a psychologist for the Cincinnati Police Department and numerous surrounding agencies for 20 years, said there are reasons Ray Tensing's initial account after the shooting may not be the best recollection.

Daum did not speak with Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati Police Department officer, after he shot DuBose during a traffic stop July 19, 2015 in the city's Mount Auburn neighborhood. But through his years of work, Daum does have a sense of what goes through an officer's mind after such an event.

It starts before an officer fires his or her weapon, Daum said, when the officer believes themselves to be in a life-or-death situation.

"It happens and it changes all your perceptions and the way you think," he said. "In other words, it's almost you might even call it an altered state of consciousness."

An officer might not hear correctly, his or her perception of time may change, and tunnel vision may set in.

Afterward, he said, an officer may not even accurately recall how many shots he or she fired.

"Almost the first thing that happens is they want to go back and try to recall what all took place," he said, "because it was such a strange event, and there's so much to recollect. And they're still in such a state of shock that even to try to recognize that it occurred in the first place, it takes a while to accept that and then to try to reconstruct."

Tensing's defense claims DuBose started to drive away from a traffic stop in 2015 and dragged Tensing, forcing Tensing to shoot in self-defense. The prosecution claims Tensing fired at DuBose before the car started moving and Tensing wasn’t dragged at all. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has even said he thinks Tensing lost his temper.

Tensing's colleagues on the force, David Lindenschmidt and Phil Kidd, were the officers who originally backed up his claim in the UC police incident report that he was dragged. Both officers changed their stories a few days after the shooting, when they had to make sworn statements to Cincinnati Police investigators. Both, however, testified Wednesday they heard tires squeal, then a gunshot.

RELATED: What they said on the witness stand

Another witness, Alicia Napier, gave a sometimes tearful account of what she saw when she put her kids in the car parked on Rice Street and DuBose and Tensing pulled up before her. Napier she admitted some of her testimony contradicted the statement she gave police that night. "I was really confused," she said in court.

Anyone who witnesses a traumatic event, such as DuBose's death, would be influenced by hormones and other physiological changes. Those, along with emotional needs, can influence a person's thoughts; essentially, everyone wants to feel they're intelligent, moral and decent.

"And sometimes, the events they remember are incomplete, and I can tell you, they will go over this in their mind no less than hundreds of times, literally, over many days to try to accurately go step by step, and go what came first second or third. So what may be stated on Day 1 might be said with the best of intentions, the best they can remember, but certain things could still be missing and then over a day or two, they go, 'Oh, that's right now, that wasn't the way it happened.'"

Each person also would bring inherent biases, Daum said, which is why it's common to hear different accounts from different people seeing and hearing the same event.

Get complete coverage of Tensing's murder trial at