Sheriff Neil talks about safety during and after Tensing trial

Posted at 10:24 AM, Oct 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-20 19:34:09-04

CINCINNATI -  Security at the Hamilton County Courthouse will be the tightest ever when former UC police officer Ray Tensing goes on trial at the end of the month for killing unarmed motorist Sam DuBose 15 months ago.

It figures to be the most emotional and impactful trial here in years  -- and it's guaranteed to draw national attention in the wake of deadly police shootings of black men by white officers  and the killing of officers in retaliation. 

Cincinnati will be holding its breath hoping for calm. And so will Sheriff Jim Neil.

Neil says he expects protesters and he is committed to honoring their rights and protecting them and everyone else  while maintaining the safe operation of the courthouse.

To do that, he plans to have a beefed-up force of deputies in and around the courthouse.

"Our office is tasked with maintaining the peace and security of the Hamilton County Courthouse, the Hamilton County Justice Center and surrounding county buildings," Neil said Thursday.

No protests, loud outbursts or any breaches of decorum will be allowed in the courthouse or other county buildings, he said.

Only about 20 spectators will be admitted to the courtroom during the trial, said Major Charmaine McGuffey of the Sheriff's Office. That's because Judge Megan Shanahan's courtroom is very small and most of the seats will be taken by a large news media contingent covering the trial.

Officials will offer a secondary viewing room in the courthouse with space for 60 to 100 viewers. McGuffey also reminded people who want to watch the trial that they can see it online from their homes or any location.

"We will be livestreaming every moment of the trial," McGuffey said. "We want to accommodate the public … The sheriff has taken great measures to make this available to the public."

McGuffey said the sheriff's office is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

"It is our job to prepare for any worst-case scenario and we certainly are prepared for that," she said.

She said the sheriff's staff is well-trained and experienced in dealing with protesters.

"We support the right for peaceful protest – for lawful gatherings of people who want to have their voices heard," McGuffey said. "If people come down to protest, I want then to understand that we're there for their safety as well as for the safety of everyone that's entering and exiting the courthouse."

She said the sheriff's office has been meeting with religious and community leaders in hopes of keeping protests peaceful.

"They understand what the situation is and they have expressed to me that they want to help in any way they can," McGuffey said.

She said the sheriff's office has not met with Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, but they might.

"I don't believe that that's off the table," she said. "We will have ongoing meetings potentially throughout this entire trial proceeding. We look forward to that."

Black Lives Matters is planning a march Saturday from Inwood Park in Mount Auburn to the courthouse, where they will hold a rally.  

Cincinnati police is charged with maintaining the peace downtown away from the courthouse and county buildings. City leaders discussed plans Monday at City Hall.

The Tensing trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31 with jury selection.

Tensing is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter for shooting DuBose during a traffic stop near UC's campus on July 19, 2015.

The shooting and traffic stop were captured on body camera video. You can watch the video here.

Tensing has pleaded not guilty.

Tensing's attorney has said his client feared being dragged under DuBose's car as DuBose tried to drive away. Tensing shot DuBose in the head. Tensing said he pulled DuBose over near campus for a missing front license plate.

The shooting came amid increased national attention on how police treat black suspects. DuBose was black; Tensing is white. 

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